Archive for January, 2010

The men pictured here


a) bowing to someone they have mistaken for the Japanese emperor

b) apologizing for their poor banking practices

c) asking for more porridge at lunch

d) showing off their “pas trop court,” not too short, haircuts.

Yes, d. Now, one of these men is Robert and one is the dean of the campus here. He’s French, and he asked for pas trop court in his native language, to a French hair massacre enactor. The results don’t look vastly different to me, except that one of us had much less hair to begin with.

I have had only one other haircut, at least as far as I can remember, by a professional in Europe. That was in Moscow in 2000 or 2001. There too I asked for not too short, and came out just about scalped. At least my Luxembourgeoise hair defiler paid attention to me while she worked; the Muscovite version yakked away with her friends and devoted minimal effort to my head. But in the end, or at the top, there was little difference.

Today to Sunny Fitness, which is the name–yup, just like that, in English–of the weight room I go to. I was tired today–didn’t sleep all that well, too excited, I suppose, by making arrangements for a trip. More about that when it happens. When you are tired, by all means go to the gym. You will feel even more tired, but you will feel that you have done something good for yourself, and you will probably sleep better that night.

Now, at Sunny Fitness, there are posters everywhere of super muscle men, i.e. body builders. You know what they look like–thighs bulging out like gaucho pants, shoulder muscles climbing halfway up the head, abs everywhere, and oil over the whole body. Imagine such a creature coming up to you on the beach–there are females of the species, too–and trying to pick you up (as in connect with you, entice you into bed, and so forth)–would that not be frightening? On the other hand, Schwarzenegger apparently had excellent success with women. Funny world.

Arnold in his prime and again a few years ago. My goal–since I could never have looked half or one-fourth as muscular as Schw. at any time in my life, is not to look like him in pic 2. So far so good.

Sunny fitness and good haircuts to you, amigos.


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Doofus at the bank

Luxembourg is the second largest banking center in Europe according to some reports, having nosed out Switzerland in 2005 to be behind the long-time giant, London.  There are some 220 banks, i.e. separate companies, operating in Lux.  People are waiting, for a fee, to handle your money in secret–and now more of it than the fabled Swiss banks.  So you would think they would make it easy to use their banks.  In many ways, they do.  Internet banking is well developed, and ATM machines are everywhere.  Many transactions are made  by online transfer, even to pay local bills.  On the other hand, people don’t use checks, like not at all, and they don’t use credit cards as much as Americans do.  Many Luxembourgers pay their monthly bills by going to the bank.  And they seem to go for many other reasons.  At least, the 2 times I’ve been in a local bank, to open my account and today to deposit some money, I had to take a number and wait for 20 or more minutes.  You have to go through 2 electric doors to get into the lobby, where maybe 20-25 people are waiting to see one of 3 or 4 tellers.  There is a special teller window (guichet) for checks and other matters; I can’t quite figure it out.  So today I went with the big deal purpose of depositing all the dollars I brought with me, all 83.  I finally saw my number come up on the electronic message board.  I went up the teller and told her what I wanted, and took out my account card.  Ok, no problem, except that she pushed the 3 singles back to me.  you don’t accept these, I asked in my best French?  Oh blah blah blah, she said.  Couldn’t understand it.  Eventually she gave me a paper and said I had to go the check guichet.  There the male teller (they are always male at that window) asked where the money was.  I said I gave it to the woman at guichet 1.  He called her on the phone and then said to me, she says you put it in your pocket.  Fortunately, I could catch every word he said.  Sure enough, there in my pocket were all 83 dollars.  I don’t know how red I turned, but I said I’m sorry every way I could think of in French, handed over the money, and got out as fast as I could.  Happily, the bank staff seemed to have a good laugh about the whole affair.  Moral:  pay attention to where the money is.

Anyway, why 2 tellers, to deposit a measly $83?  Why do the tellers mysteriously get up from their chairs from time to time, walk through doors into other rooms, walk over to one place or another to pick up forms, etc.?  Why the long lines, when there are banks on every corner, from Brazil, Britain, Germany, the US, Spain, Italy, and on and on.  I don’t know.  Even Pay Pal is registered as a bank in Lux.  Maybe it’s all one big bank run by the Lux government.  The way everything is regulated here, I wouldn’t be surprised.  There has been a lot of criticism of banking secrecy here and elsewhere in Europe, so if anything ever truly gets reformed in the western world, the status and probably the income of banks here will fall.  Meanwhile, walk in banking seems a good deal easier in the US.

On the other hand, try using dry cleaners here.  I took in a pair of pants a week ago, went back for them today.  The clerk directed me to a machine  into which I stuck one end of my receipt, where a bar code was printed.  A conveyor device sprang to life and moved a long line of clothes around, while a message flashed on a screen that my order was on its way.  Sure enough, after a few moments the conveyor stopped, and right in front of me a thick plexiglass window slid down, so that I could stick my hand in and take my pants.  I did have visions of what would have happened if Charlie Chaplin had operated the device, but it was in fact way cool.

Clean for a day in Lux.

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Last weekend, Jan. 24, went to Metz. All yellow limestone buildings. That might drive me crazy if I stayed there a long time, but it’s an impressive ensemble to look at. Best of all, no surprise, is the cathedral. A kind of squatty Gothic thing from the outside, no high bell tower, but fabulous windows. Some of the windows are by Marc Chagall; but in truth I like the old ones a good deal more.

Chagall window detail, 1960. Not taken by me. I couldn’t get a good photo inside.

At the main entrance, carvings of people going to heaven show them fully clothed, or robed, but those going into the mouth of hell are naked. I’m not going to say it would be more fun going in naked, but somehow heaven always sounded really dull to me. Anyway, here’s the pic:

Would such carvings, or the mosaics or frescoes of fierce devils chomping on souls in Italian churches, really have frightened anyone into good behavior? To my mind, no, unless people were primed by some experience to feel the wrath of hell–Luther scared almost out of his mind as he crossed an open field in a thunderstorm, lightning all around. I believe that the depictions of hell were more interesting and entertaining than depictions of heaven–of which, I am convinced, there were very few.

Here’s another one I did not take, from the Florence Baptistry:

Scary? I don’t think so! Cool to look at if you’ve come straight from the countryside (or from New York, for that matter)–absolutely.

And these big devils do not figure in Orthodox art, i.e. icons. So no witch hunts in Orthodox lands. Or maybe I said that before.

Anyway, Metz was a fine stop for an afternoon. And once more, the French show how good they are at decorating shop windows.

Yesterday started to feel sick while teaching my class. Made it through, then had to lie down. Could only eat bananas and drink Coke during the day. But did get my hair cut. Pas trop court–not too short–means here, apparently, don’t scalp me. So I have a little hair left. Today felt much better. And I finally got my x ray. Took the train this time to Esch, which was much better than trying to drive through the crazy center of another old town. So now I have done all the stages of trying to get a visa that I can–all the docs go off to the Min. of Foreign Affairs.

Coke and bananas to you when you need them.

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Today into Lux City.  Walked down to the Grund, the Ground, or lower town, in the valley of the Petrusse River.  There in a monastery, now a museum, saw an exhibition of funny drawings about coffee by Jiri Sliva.  Then walked all the way back up.  Had a huge sandwich and mediocre coffee for lunch.  Then went to the city museum, where they had a so-so exhibit on murder and suicide.  Each person going in gets a ticket; on the top floor, you are supposed to drop it into one of six or eight boxes–indicating what you would kill for.  So I put mine in self-defense.  Another was marked for money.  Mighty few tickets in that one.  So the exercise proves nothing.  But they did have a real guillotine in the exhibit.  First one I’ve ever seen.  Dr. Guillotin did not invent it, but did promote it during the French Rev as a merciful way of executing people.  He was probably right, compared to using the sword, hanging, the electric chair, injections, etc.  A heavy blade falling maybe fifteen feet before hitting the neck–I have not heard of mistakes.  Let me know if you have.

The city museum building is great; has a triangular elevator with views into the city on one side, into the museum on the other.

Anyway, here’s my walk in the city down and up in photos, with the guillotine at the end.

Going down

Now going up.

Maybe this little photo essay will give an idea of how steep the valley is, as well as how the fortifications were constructed.

There were walls, bastions, towers, holes,gates, sally ports, you name it.  All that lasted until 1867, when under a treaty, most of it had to be dismantled.  Hadn’t anyone thought of tourism yet??  Yes, tourists had already gone for decades to see the battlefield at Waterloo, not really too far north of here, just south of Brussels.  And in 1867 the fortifications had very little military value.  Oh, well.  Today about 10% of the earlier stuff is left.  You can go into the casements; haven’t done that yet.

And a look back through the gate

And now the guillotine.

Meanwhile, up in the upper ville, all the girls go by dressed up for each other, as Van Morrison said.  Older women like furs, older men like sheepskin coats.  Younger women like mini skirts, tights, and high boots.  Chic, my dears, and tres cher.

Do not even think about murder on a day or night like this!

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There’s good days and bad days, eh wot, and good hours and bad. This morning I graded some papers and worked on a chapter of my lynching book. That seems long ago. Had lunch with a charming, truly, Luxembourger who teaches here. Excellent English, as so many people here speak it. The food was good, various pieces of fish on rice. I could identify only the salmon. Everything well cooked, nothing dried out or translucent, as some Americans say fish should be. Barf. Actually had pretty good espresso at the restaurant where we ate. And I had already talked to the Lux. prof, Haag, a little about coffee, so he insisted on telling the head waiter that I was a coffee expert. “Nut,” I corrected him. But then the maitre d’ actually wanted to know my opinion of his coffee. Good crema, says I, it sticks to the spoon and returns to the original shape in the cup when you push it away with a spoon (although, as my coffee guru Geoff Watts says, crema can be overrated). Good body and flavor. Not layered, like superb espresso, but I didn’t say that. I just babbled a little about how lighter roasts and single origin beans are the latest twist in espresso, and how it’s a whole world unto itself that I didn’t know anything about until maybe a year ago.

After lunch hopped in Das and zoomed over, or tried to, to get an x ray for the bureaucracy in a nearby town. Crazy hours for the clinic there. Well, once again, driving around the center of these old burgs is NOT FUN. So I got there pretty late and, after sitting around waiting to be called in, decided that I had to leave to get back to the chateau for a 4 PM faculty meeting. I did not want to be late for the very first meeting. So a useless 1 1/2 hours and car trip, unless you count the educational value of failure.

And, would you believe it, faculty meetings here are just as dull as in the US! Can anyone be concise?!? Do we have to have the difference between the cost of copies and cost of printing materials, and who pays for what, explained 6-7 effing times??

Afterward a reception in the dean’s apt. There the food was again up to Euro par. Excellent cheeses, wonderful ham twisted onto extra thin bread sticks, salmon on rolls, little pieces of lettuce-like curly leaves (endive?) with tiny shrimp and onions in the middle, nice wine, champagne. And, fighting shyness all the way, I actually spoke to the two dames d’honneur, American sisters who had been here in separate years in the early ’80s. Pleasant people. What do most people put into their lives?

Then to do my laundry in the pit of despair, aka the faculty/staff laundry room. I’m the only one who dares to go in there, let alone to do laundry there. And I broke the rules to do it in the evening; don’t ask. As I was trying to sneak back into the chateau, the dean and the concierge spotted me and made me take all the leftovers home. That’s not bad, but then it seems that I’m the only one left in the chateau tonight. Das in the only car in the courtyard. So I watched French tv, which was almost useless, and played with Ms. Tom Tom for a while–finally got my up-to-date maps, which took hours to download. After that, countin’ flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all. Statler Brothers? Can’t remember.

It’s good to be lonely sometimes. It makes you appreciate people.

And tomorrow is another day.

Have a happy social occasion soon.

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Chartres Cathedral, France, 13th century

Now, why have sex and the devil, and or witches, been connected for so long? In testimonies from the European witch hunts, roughly 1500-1700, “witches”–i.e., usually peasant women who were being tortured, confessed to making pacts with the devil and to having sex with him or his sub-demons. And these women reported that it was no fun, in fact, that it was as painful as childbirth.

The New Yorker, Nov. 2000, in case you can't read good

They made these statements in response to leading questions put to them by the magistrates. “When did you first meet the devil? Did he appear to you in form of a goat, or perhaps a large black man?” Yes, even then, the black man was identified as esp. sexually potent.

You may ask how did the devil or demons accomplish sexual intercourse, since all the clerics of the period agreed that Satan et al. were spirits? Ah, but remember that in the New Testament Satan transports Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and offers him all the kingdoms of the world! So the Big D could move things and act in the physical world! One theory of the early modern period was that the devil could collect semen from a man and instantly transport it to a woman. The d. could inspissate air–thicken it–and use it to move stuff around. And it was worth torturing lots of people to get at the truth! But then many voices arose to say that torture doesn’t test anything except someone’s ability to withstand pain, and that anyone will say anything to get torture to stop.

But why did people, yes, men and women, think that women were particularly susceptible to the devil’s wiles? Check your Bible, if you have one, for the story of Adam and Eve, for starters. God tells them that there is only one thing that they can’t do in the Garden of Eden, eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. So when a snake–the lowest, lousiest creature of all–speaks to Eve and says go ahead, of course she does! Dumb! And when she offers some of the apple to Adam, he knows it’s wrong to take a bite. But Eve is the only other person around. If she has knowledge and he doesn’t, how are they going to get along? So he takes a piece, too.

The course I am teaching here is the European Witch Hunts, with the fancy subtitle “Gender, Panic, Religion, and the Decline and Restoration of Justice, 1400-1700.”

So there will be more here about witches. Meanwhile, check out the exhibition on witches in Speyer, Germany. On the left side of the exhibition page there is a tiny British flag to click on to get to material in English. Unfortunately, it takes you to general information about the Speyer museum, not to the witch show site.

Or you can read my book, The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch Persecutions in Europe and North America.

Do not dream about Satan tonight.

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Here’s my kitchen while I was cooking boeuf bourgignon, trying to follow a Julia Childs recipe. Turned out well, except that the carrots weren’t really cooked. Al dente, as we like to say. Don’t understand the oven here; how long (how many days) do you have to cook b. bourgignon?

kitchen window sill, doncha know

sink and counter

And let’s all boeuf up:

protein du jour

Today had Kaffee und Kuchen in Trier. Ein Kaennchen–that’s a phrase I learned early–a small pot of coffee, 2 cups. The coffee was not as good as I remembered Euro. coffee from years back, but I have changed. On the other hand, the apricot torte was excellent. And beautifully served. Didn’t even think about taking a photo–next time.

And how about some German sparkling wine?

This is not any old Sekt, but finer Sekt! Remember, no Sekt before sechs.

Anyway, croissants or fresh bread for breakfast, potable (barely) coffee, superb butter and jam–Euro eating is good. The frozen stuff from Picard is, as was foretold, fine. Haven’t gotten to the goat cheese pizza yet, but soon.

Would you eat the stuff pictured at right?  It’s terrine de volaille forestiere.  The ingredients are (my trans.):  turkey meat, liver of fowl, forest garniture, fresh cream, onions, eggs, milk, wheat flour, bouillon of fowl, duck fat, salt, pepper, spices.  And it’s Sans Porcs! I.e., no pork in it.  Looks gross, but spread it on good bread, have some decent red wine, and it’s wonderful.


And now I have dared to invite the dean to dine here on omlette aux fines herbes. All I have to do is find a recipe. Comment if you please.

Bubbly and boeuf to you, mate.


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