Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Stuff Arrives

I will write about the Paris trip. I even have photos - good ones, of Matt pretending to be a male model on top of the Eiffel Tower. But today an even more exciting event occurred: Our stuff arrived. After the disappointment of the air-freight boxes (I haven't used that thermometer once. Or the camera) I deliberately lowered my expectations of what it would be like to have our entire life delivered to our door. But it was surprisingly great. Especially as I disappeared with Mads off to kindergarten in the morning just as the truck arrived and by the time I arrived home, all the boxes were in the flat. Joy.

Mads was beside herself with delight, discovering all her old treasures. 'There's Hard Donnie!' 'There's my drumkit!' 'There's Sneezy the Activity Dragon!' Then she dressed up in her fairy outsuit, put a lampshade on her head and collapsed in front of the tv to watch a playschool DVD. While she did that, I stood in the doorway of our bedroom and admired my Auntie Cookie cushions for a while, then retired into the kitchen to eat vegemite toast. It was great. Truly great.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In which I become my own spam

Recently, Mads has had two favourite games. The first one is called 'The Famous Artist Madeleine' and in this game I play the part of an adoring, slightly crazed art fan, who turns up at the studio of the Famous Artist Madeleine to be told by the person in charge of the studio (I'm not sure exactly who she is) that the Famous Artist Madeleine is in today and would I like to meet her? Then, when the Famous Artist Madeleine appears I get to fall about in adoration and the Famous Artist graciously deigns to show me some of her recent artwork.

The other game is 'Visiting the Doctors' in which I get to be a patient and Mads gets to jab needles in my arms, then she gives me a leaf (the bill?) and tells me, brusqely, to come back next week.

Both of these games, I have no doubt, have developed because most of Mads' non-kinder/ non-playground hours have been spent either at a museum/gallery or at the doctors. I don't think Mads has been to the doctors as much in her life as she has in the six weeks since we've arrived here. First there was the finger-jamming incident, quickly followed by the return visit for the all-clear-for-kinder health certificate. Then last week, there was another finger-injury. Thieu took her to a shopping centre and somehow, on the escalator, she managed to cut two of her fingers. Thieu said it was horrific. She wiped her hand across her face and soon there was blood everywhere and he had no idea where it was coming from.

Mads was, not surprisingly, screaming in horror during all this, and she and Thieu attracted quite a crowd. Our two weeks of German language lessons did not help much as he tried to communicate with the well-meaning passers-by, but eventually a couple of staff members whisked Mads and Thieu away to a quiet corner and cleaned them up. Sweets were administed. Mads got some too. And someone gave her a soft toy panda. Her injured fingers were very puffy and Mads couldn't move them, so an ambulance was called. More sweets. The ambos examined the fingers and said it wasn't a serious enough injury to go to the hospital in the ambulance, but that she should probably have an x-ray to check they weren't broken.

Meanwhile, I was oblivious to all this, as Thieu had forgotten his phone and didn't know my number, so he arrived home and uttered those terrifying words: 'Please don't freak out but.'

It was all fine though. The x-ray gave Mads the all clear. She loved the hospital and wanted to stay and play with the equipment, even though it was 9 pm. 'But the park is for sick kids, and I'm sick!' More sweets and a hasty exit. We still don't know exactly what happened but now we do a check of fingers and shoelaces whenever we get on an escalator. The soft toy panda has settled in well. 'He's a cute panda,' I said to Mads as I tucked him in beside her the other night. 'What's he called?' 'He's called Vagina,' Madeleine said, then rolled over and went to sleep.

As for the Famous Artist Madeleine game, well that would be because we've cranked up quite a few hours in the various (and I must say excellent) Frankfurt galleries. I had a deja-vu experience when we went to one called the Communication Museum and saw these:

Earlier this year someone definitely sent me an email with a picture of these sheep and I remember being quite taken with them. I think I may have sent the email on to other people, even. And suddenly, there they were! Right in front of me! It was like I'd walked into my own spam.

Now, jumping to an unrelated topic, I have to admit I've had some trouble getting Thieu to do his guest-blog although he swears he will. I shall continue hassling him about it, and I'll make sure he answers your excellent question about unfranked stamps in Frankfurt, Carolena. But not this week. Because we are off to Paris from tomorrow until Sunday to see what the galleries (and the hospitals) are like over there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


It's been a big week. Mads started at kinder, 9 - 12 every day. The kinders here are open 7 am to 7 pm although I doubt that any kids actually go that much. (Then weirdly, when school starts it's from 8.30 to 1.)

Mads has been dying to start kinder. For the last two weeks, every morning the first thing she's said has been; 'can I go to kinder today?' and she's been devestated when I've had to break the news that no, it was just going to be another fun day with mummy.

Unfortunately, the first kinder day was not so good. Apparently she flitted from room to room and had some spectacular tantrums. When I arrived to collect her, she was sitting on her own, crying. Awful. She was very tired, though, after our adventures on the autobahn the night before and despite all of that, she assured me that she wanted to go back on Tuesday. I made sure she was well-rested and luckily it was a much more succesful day. Only one bout of frustrated crying and she actually sat at the table and did some glue-ing for half an hour or so.

Wednesday was better still. She spent a good hour and a half playing in the toddler pool full of balls (like the germ-infested ones they have at Ikea) and was happy, but exhausted, when I went to pick her up. And no tears at all.

While she's been at kinder I've been doing a German-language class provided by Thieu's work for the new recruits and their fraus. I got to go, even though I'm merely a Leibensgafertnen (or however you write this crazy word that means 'life's-partner'). The class started at 8.15 every day and went through to 2.15 but I could only make it for a couple of hours because of the kinder commitments.

It was useful though. Mostly it was useful in showing me that everything I've been saying so far has been wrong. For instance, I've been referring to Madeleine as 'it' rather than 'she' for the last month. Even my pronounciation of my favourite German word, sonnenblummenkernen (sunflower seeds) was incorrect, which is rather embarrassing because I've been saying it alot. I didn't know how to say 'breadroll' so I have been walking into bakeries and saying 'mit sonnenblummenkernen, bitte' and generally, they've handed over a breadroll with sunflower seeds on the top. I actually prefer poppy seeds, but I didn't know how to say that.

It's quite humilating to try and learn a language as an adult. It's all the more humilating because everyone in Europe speaks about nine languages each. I casually asked the woman in the flat upstairs from us how many languages she spoke and she said, modestly, 'only English, French and Spanish.'
'And German,' I pointed out.
'And German,' she agreed. 'Oh, and a few African languages.' I smiled, thinking she was making a sort of joke. But no. She actually does speak some African languages and has worked as a translator.

I started the week full of high hopes about mastering German. Actually, that's not quite true. I started the week thinking about all the other things I'd like to do with my newly acquired child-free hours in the morning, but I decided that was a bad attitude and made myself being optimistic about the lessons. I had a loose plan to learn nouns and Thieu was going to learn verbs (in the imperative only) and together, I thought, we might be able to form short, rude sentences. 'To drive taxi!' 'To cook food!' 'To pay bill!'

Notice how I've left out the articles? The articles are what really got me down this week. And at the risk of sounding bitter, let me just get it off my chest so I can move on: I can accept the notion, however weird, of all objects being either masculine or feminine. I studied French and I've come to terms with it. But the 'neuter' gender in German really makes a mockery of the whole thing. Why is a snail a 'she', but a horse an 'it'? Why is a door 'he', but a window 'it'? And the one that really annoys me - why is pepper 'he' but salt 'it'? Salt is more 'it-like' than pepper? 'Don't analyse,' the teacher kept saying, soothingly. 'Just accept.' And I have accepted. Defeat, that is. Maybe I'll swap to verbs instead.

To rub (neutral) saltz into the wound everyone here is always quick to apologise for how bad their English is. 'There are so many words I don't know!' they moan. 'Don't worry,' you reassure them. 'I'm sure you're Englsih is actually very good.' Then they'll launch into a highly detailed story in fluent English and when they stop to ask you for help the word they don't know is some incredibly technical, specialised thing that you've actually never heard of.

'Mit sonnenblumenkernen,' I keep muttering to myself. 'Mit sonnenblumenkernen.'

At least now I know how to ask for a breadroll without sonnenblumenkernen. And my pronounciation of 'Sorry, I don't speak German,' is much improved.

**Special Announcement**
Thieu has promised to do a guest appearance on the Frankfurter files to update you on his place of work. If you have any questions for him, please feel free to post them in the comments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn

On Saturday we hired a car and went and did some tourist-ing in a nearby town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg was apparently the inspiration for the town in Pinoccio, if Wikipedia is to be believed (and who doesn't believe Wikipedia?) If you look at Rothenburg from the top of a tower that is approximately 200 metres from the ground it looks like this:

We didn't stay up on the tower for very long, because apparently it has no actual foundations of its own, it's just sort of resting on the top of the building. Thieu didn't like that. I kept saying 'it's not windy, don't worry,' but we came down in record time anyway.

I've been looking through the shots we took and I've noticed an important difference between the shots Thieu takes and the ones I take, even when the subject matter is basically the same. Here's my shot of the town hall:

You see, I like to pretend I'm the only tourist in the town. And the only way I can pull that off photographically is to take lots of shots of roofs and sky. Luckily, this was a pretty nice roof. Thieu doesn't care so much about pretending the tourists aren't there. Here's his photo:

Clearly, his is much better. And it's partially because of the tourist in the foreground. Who is he? Is he wandering around on his own? Perhaps he's come to Germany for business purposes, leaving his family behind and when the weekend came he thought 'Well, I may as well do some sightseeing. I probably won't come back again.' Or maybe his wife and small children are sitting in an icecream shop. Who knows?

This is another one of Thieu's:

I love the small, bobbly head in the foreground, but most of all I love the small figure (a kid?) pressed against the wall of the building. What the heck is he doing? Is he kissing the building? Doing push-ups with his nose? I have no idea, and that's why I like it. I also like the man walking past who is staring at the kissing figure, obviously also confused. So I'm going to review my approach to photo-taking at tourist attractions. The tourists will be the attractions from now on.

This is from Rothenburg too:

This is outside a quaint little shop where you can buy mannequins of small girls. I don't look particularly happy with my purchase, do I? But I think it's just that I'm realising that I'm going to have to lug it around for the rest of the day and I'm regretting not taking the shipping option, bugger the expense.

On the way back home the autobahn was so choked with people returning home after the bank holiday weekend that after covering only 20 kms in one hour and having tired of discussing what a Schwein Grippe would be if it were a wrestling move instead of a deadly virus, (we decided it would be when one wrestler grabs hold of the other wrestler's nose) we turned off and hung out in some town whose name I forget that had 1. a playpark and 2. some non-German restaurants. We had Greek food. It was good. And I finally spotted my first socks-n-sandals combo. Nationality of the wearer is unknown, but I have my suspicions.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Finger

A lot of this week has focussed on Madeleine's finger. One night, after an exciting evening running around the flat with two non-English-speaking big kids, Madeleine's finger was somehow jammed in the door. She rushed to me, and cried at a pitch so stratospherically high that it was actually not not audible to human ears for several seconds. Then it was very audible, and for quite some time. Poor kid.

I wrapped it up and denied its existence for a while, but then when I peeked at it through half-shut eyes, I realised that it looked how it does in the above photo. Not very nice, really. Maybe I could just prick it with a needle, squeeze the gunk out then put a band-aid on it? I thought. But even to me that sounded like a bad idea.

So then I had to find a local children's doctor, try to convince the non-English speaking receptionist with my bad (ie, non-existent German) that I needed an appointment. And then I had to try and explain to the receptionist that while I haven't received my German health insurance card yet, we have signed up with a company, look, here's a slightly dog-eared fax with some numbers on it, eh? Eh?

But finally we got through. And the children's doctor was a nice lady in a white coat with lots of toys in her office. She examined Mads' manky finger with a peturbed expression.
There is blood under the nail,' she pronounced eventually. 'And poos.'

Well, blood was one thing. But poos was quite another.

She sent me off to another doctor - this time a nice man in a green outfit and a seemingly endless supply of packets of gummi bears which he kept producing, like magic, and I never worked out from where.

He examined Mads' finger and agreed about the blood, but said that it wasn't infected and that there was no pus (or poos) which I was mightily relieved to hear. Then he said 'I could take the nail off. It's going to fall off anyway. But I think it's maybe better just to leave it.'

I seconded that. I doubt all the gummi bears in Christendom could have helped us through such an experience.

Then he said 'So I think the best thing is to puncture the swelling and squeeze out the blood and then put a bandage on it.' Which, you may note, is what I'd briefly considered doing myself. But he did it much more swiftly and efficiently and with a lot less wincing than I would've.

I was expecting poor Mads to lift the roof with her wails while this happened, but she was surprisingly restrained. Earlier in the day she had whacked herself in the face with a banana (I really don't know how these things happen) and she cried just as much for that as she did when the doctor pricked her finger and squeezed the blood out.

Which makes for an interesting comparative scale, really; where 0 = no pain and 10 = finger jammed in door and 6.5 = banana in the face / pricked and squeezed finger.

This is how Madeleine's finger looked yesterday. I think it pretty much sums up how she felt about the whole experience: