Friday, July 29, 2011

Buffy Gets Attacked Part 3 - Agression

Below is part three of a six part series about a recent incident when Buffy was attacked by another dog. Buffy fortunately got through this experience without any permanent physical or mental damage. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

Dogs evolved from wolves and while most dogs are clearly domesticated, there are some dogs that hold onto instincts from their more wild days. With Buffy it’s her herding instincts and with others it’s a more aggressive attack instinct.

Now this wasn’t the first time Buffy and I had every encountered an aggressive dog. In our condo there’s at least two who I would categorize as aggressive. These dogs see Buffy from across the street or down the sidewalk and will start barking. While these dogs can be a little annoying, I appreciate that the dogs are giving a clear message to Buffy to keep away.

This reaction is out of fear and often stems from lack of socialization as a puppy or a trauma experience earlier in life. Of course if you stick a dog in a corner and hit it with a newspaper it will eventually get fearful and try to fight back. This is a natural and logical survival technique.

There was something different about Molly. The fact that she didn’t bark at Buffy as she approached showed a transformation of fear into something darker. She saw Buffy as prey. I’ve seen this with one other dog. It’s a stare, a stillness in a dog’s body right when it’s about to pounce. There’s no fear involved here, it’s something deeper more animalistic and that is something this is something to be feared.

What do you do with a dog that has this instinct inside of them? This is a potential to not only hurt another dog or person but to kill. I have no idea.

Some of these dogs’ behavior can be prevented if we as a society treat dogs better but some dogs, just like people are simply jerks.

This is a question Amy had to ask herself as she dealt with the after effects of Molly attacking Buffy:

The evening of the attack we received this e-mail from Amy:
I cannot apologize enough for what happened in class today. I got Molly from a shelter a year and a half ago. I knew she was not a fan of other dogs but I have never seen the aggression she displayed today when she attacked Buffy and I'm mortified. I have no idea how she got away from me and I just feel so awful and irresponsible. I am so sorry for the trauma this has caused you guys, and sweet Buffy. Please let me know if you guys need anything. I will gladly pay for any vet bills.

Again, I am just so incredibly sorry and please let me know how I can help.
While we appreciated her sentiment and the e-mail, Diana and I were in no mood to be empathetic with Amy.  As time went on my feeling about Amy changed as well as the way I felt about Molly as learned about the true consequences of Molly's actions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Satchel Vs. Murse?!?

Some of the most important things I teach as a music teacher have nothing to do with music.  I teach students about character, what it means to be part of a community and . . . um fashion?

A couple months ago I was looking online and found a really cool bag.  My wife Diana wasn't so sure about it so she told me that if my middle school students thought it was a acceptable then she would be ok with it.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!

So I created a powerpoint that went something like this:

Here are two satchels or man-bags that a twenty-something like myself would look reasonably fashionable walking down the street with.

Now here are two unacceptable murses that no man should be caught with, especially someone like myself.

At this point in the presentation, I had students vote whether they agreed with my conclusions and they all agreed with my analysis.  Then it got interesting.

Here is a Mark VII gas mask bag from World War II

This bag was famously used by one, Indiana Jones, the famous archeologist. 

Question: Is this bag an acceptable man-satchel or is it an unacceptable murse?

I led this discussion in front of my 6th grade general music class of 22 students, my 7th grade band of 34 students and my 8th grade band of 23.  Across all of the grades most of the guys were in support of the bag because it was a gas mask bag (which was cool) with the logic that if Indiana Jones could pull it off, so could someone like Mr. Tang.

The girls were more split on the issue.  Some commented that it was kind of ugly.  Others thought it only worked for Indiana Jones because of the context of his adventures.  And one girl told me to just listen to my wife.

After about ten minutes of discussion I had the students vote whether the bag was acceptable for me to purchase and use on a daily basis.

About 75% of the students voted for the bag and the rest either voted against the bag or were just really confused about why we were taking time in music class to discuss man-bags.  Well, the answer to that question is: because they are REALLY handy.

On my recent trip to Europe we found a need for both Diana and I to have a bag to carry random stuff so we got a cheap bag from H & M.

This bag was meant for women, but I didn't really mind carrying it because the water bottle, snacks, maps, wallet, phone and various other trip necessities simply didn't fit into my pockets.

Anyways, with the support of my students I purchased my bag from What Price Glory, an military antique store and the bag totally rocks.  I ordered an extra leather strap which looked better and matched the way Indiana Jones wore the bag.

For being over 60 years old the bag is in great shape, totally holds up and all the seams are still solid.  It perfectly fits an ipad with plenty of space for other things as well.  AND my mom thinks it looks stylish on me.

Do I think it was a waste of time to have a presentation about man-bags with my students and have them discuss it?  No.  Being a teacher isn't just about getting through all of the information in the curriculum.  It's about relationships and sharing part of who you are with students so they will feel more at ease sharing parts of themselves with you.  And Lord knows these kids have a better sense of what is cool then I do . . . kind of.

Monday, July 25, 2011

To Miss Winehouse

"When the headline 'Amy Winehouse found dead at 27' came barging into our Saturday afternoon, the word 'dead' felt like a long-promised punch to the gut. It may not have surprised anyone, but it still hurt like hell."

Chris Richard of the Washington Post to started his tribute to the late Amy Winehouse who was found dead last weekend with this quote.  While jokes reverberated around the internet calling her death the "least surprising news ever," people like myself who loved her music and respected her art are left not with dark humor but rather a sadness.  Any schadenfreude that anyone may feel from this is the worst kind of reaction and a reflection of a darkness and insensitivity that is sub-human.  

Why am I sad that Amy Winehouse is dead?  I mean it's not like she was a life-saving surgeon.  Sometimes we overact when celebrities die, just because someone is famous doesn't mean their life means anything more than any other person who dies outside of the limelight.  Of course I'm more sad thinking about the loss of my grandfather, but there is something meaningful in a different way about the loss of Winehouse.

Music can be an expression of the whole range of human emotions.  While I respect the art of creating music that explores the darker emotions of anger and hate, I don't the enjoy music that does expresses these emotions.  There is so much darkness in this world.  The last week has seen unimaginable tragedy in Norway, so I don't want hear a song about killing and Satan.  What we need in this world, what I need is music that brings us joy.  We need music that reminds us how great it feels to be alive.  In her short career Amy Winehouse dedicated her life to creating music that did just that.

I still remember the first time I her "Rehab," and her cover of "It's My Party."  I was giddy.  It simply felt righteous.  Her work with Mark Ronson grabbed popular music by the collar and said "hey, you remember how good music felt the in the 1960s with live instruments, great arrangements, imaginative song-writing and soulful vocals felt?"  Every so often an artist comes around and shake us out of forward-thinking music trends and remind us that is it in the glories of the past, reveling in music of a cultural ancestors that we find truly meaningful art.

Winehouse isn't alone.  Cee-Lo is playing off of 1970s soul, Lady Gaga is reflecting the greatest of the 1980s and Glee has created a whole musical movement based on embracing the past.  It is this respect, this admiration, and this dedication to old music that has created the greatest music in our culture.

Amy Winehouse's music made me feel amazing.  I can't help but move when I hear her songs and I can't help but smile when I hear her sing.  It doesn't seem fair how good she was, it's unreal.  Yes, her voice is a warbaly mess at times but like Janis Joplin, it's not about the vocal technique, it's about the soul.  There was a direct line from her heart to her voice and what you heard in her singing was human expression at its purest.

Thanks Amy for sharing your music and your soul with the world.  I hope you find the same joy wherever you are that you're music brought into my life.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Buffy Gets Attacked Part 2 - The Sound

Below is part two of a six part series about a recent incident when Buffy was attacked by another dog. Buffy fortunately got through this experience without any permanent physical or mental damage. Click here for part 1.

Before I knew it Diana was on the ground trying to free Buffy from Molly whose jaws were imbedded in Buffy’s mane. Amy was on top of Molly trying to get her off and Elizabeth jumped in the middle trying to get them apart. I have this image burned into my memory but when I think about it, the image goes blurry except for the look of helplessness and pain on Buffy’s face.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

The worst part was the sound.

Buffy was screaming. Now I’ve stepped on Buffy’s paw and tail and she lets out a yelped but this was different. This was a sustained cry of terror. Diana was yelling as well, trying to scare the other dog off but it sounded like Diana was screaming, feeling the pain that Buffy was in.

I stood there frozen, not knowing what to do. I almost jumped in but when I saw Elizabeth in the middle of them, in the spilt second I decided that if anyone could get them apart it would be her and somehow she did.

When Diana felt that Buffy was free she stood up with Buffy in her arms and ran away from the rest of us. Elizabeth and I caught up to Diana and Elizabeth asked Diana to give Buffy to her so she could see if she as okay. Diana did not want to let go of Buffy but I knew that someone had to check Buffy over so I asked Diana to let Elizabeth check her out and reluctantly she Diana let Elizabeth take her.

Elizabeth felt around Buffy’s body, moved her legs around and not feeling Buffy flinch in pain at all she told us that Buffy seemed ok. Diana told me she needed a moment and walked away from Buffy, Elizabeth and I.

I gently walked Buffy around a little bit and got her some water. She seemed fine, but as she noticed that Diana wasn’t with us she started heading in Diana’s direction with urgency. As we got over to Diana, Buffy had a look on her face like she was wondering why we were so upset. Then Buffy saw another Sheltie in the park and excitedly walked over there to say hi.

Elizabeth suggested that we take Buffy to play with one of her friends to have a positive dog interaction as soon as possible. So we headed over to Kirby’s and they had a great time tearing around the house.

When we got home I picked up Buffy and approached Diana for a group hug. Ever since we got Buffy, we’ve been able to have group hugs as a family. More often than not it’s a silly gesture squeezing Buffy between as she alternates between licking my face and Diana’s face.

That evening the hug felt different. Close to tears, this was a moment of thanksgiving and relief. That afternoon Diana and I feared the worst. Molly weighed at least twice as much as Buffy. This wasn’t a fair fight. Buffy had no chance. Her primary defense is her ability to run away and because she was caught off guard she couldn’t dodge the attack.

We could have lost Buffy.

And in that moment holding my wife and my girly, I felt like the luckiest.

Next week: Part 3 - Apologies

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tonight Is The Night I Feel Asleep At The Wheel by The Barenaked Ladies

More often than not the subject of a song directly reveals what the song is about.  For example the subject of “Love Story” by Taylor Swift is well, a love story. The meaning of a song is the glory of falling in love against adversity.  But every once in a while a song reveals a meaning that is very different then the subject.

"Tonight Is The Night I Feel Asleep At The Wheel" by the Barenaked Ladies is pretty much about what you think. It tells the story of car crash but it's meaning is something that you don't really expect.

The Barenaked Ladies are best known for their 1998 rock/rap song "One Week."

While this fun song was kind of silly, other songs on the album revealed a level of depth and musical maturity like "Call And Answer."

Barenaked Ladies - Call and Answer by popefucker

Two years later the Barenaked Ladies released their second album Maroon.  Insightful and witty, the songs in this album covered a wide variety of themes while creating one of the greatest albums in popular music.

The album built up to the second to last song "Tonight Is The Night I Feel Asleep At The Wheel," a first-person telling of the experience of a car crash.  

The song opens as the driver describes driving home to be with "you" who we assume is his love.  It's a night just like any other and his love, as he expresses "you're the last thing on my mind."  This phrase is usually used to describe things that we don't care about or don't think about very often.  In this same way this is the last thing on our mind as the car crash ensues.

There's an almost eerie level of peace as he describes the car flipping over and the firefighters trying to get him out of the car.  When he concludes that it's over because he sees so much blood it isn't so much alarming but glorious.  Right after that crescendo the music pulls back and he reveals to us why he feels so serene through this entire thing: "you're the last thing on my mind."

This line from the beginning of the the song that describes his love as an afterthought is transformed to a line of love and devotion.  In his final moments as he dies it's his love that comes to mind.  It's this thought that brings him peace and in this way he finally is able to describe the way that feels.

The subject of this song is simple.  It's a guy who falls asleep at the wheel and get in a car crash.  The meaning is harder to describe.  In pain we seek comfort.  In people we find that comfort and it is in the love that people bring to us that we find peace.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Top Ten Worst And Best Things About Europe

There are some things I loved about our trip to Europe and some things that kind of annoyed me.  Here's the top ten worst and best things about traveling in Europe.

Let's start with the worst:

10. store hours - Now I can deal with a store opening at 10am and closing at 4pm.  It's a little annoying but what really bugs me was the stores that would randomly close in the middle of the day without notice.  Seriously people.  

9. bottled water - If you do not specifically ask for tap water and just ask for water at a restaurant chances are you will a bottle of sparking mineral water.  It's not like we were in Mexico.  The tap water is fine in the places.  It's like you're a hobo if you ask for tap water.  Man, and I though Americans were silly about their bottled water.  
8. body odor - Parisians especially, let's raise that bar a little bit.  If you think a crowded El train in Chicago is stinky try a crowded subway train in Paris.  
7. 24-hour time - Yes, it makes more sense but I got REALLY sick of having to do math in my head trying to figure out time in PM time.

6. metric system - Again, yes this system is more logical, I get it.  However I can't help what I was born into and what simply makes more sense.
5. money - In Switzerland they use Swiss Francs and in Frances they use Euros . . . in the Amsterdam airport they accepted American dollars but could only give change in Euros . . . what?!?  

4. bill chasing - It's like the waiters don't want to be paid in cafe's and restaurants.  If you want to get a check ask for it about 20 minutes before you actually want to leave or else you will spend the next half an hour trying to find your waiter.

3. street names - Hey, it's incredibly confusing that your street names change almost every block.  Oh yeah and posting street names on the sides of buildings in cute traditional looking fonts.  This is NOT charming, it's frustrating for people trying to get around and only increases the number of lost and wandering tourist.
2. electrical outlets - I'm okay with using an adapter but what is up with the connect the dots situation on the outlets?

1. hotel standards - It's a very different game over in Europe when it comes to hotels.  Bad situations like a hotel sending you to another hotel that is sub-par (which I described in this post) happens.  Be careful, double-check your reservations and don't assume anything about the hotel you have booked.

Now for the good stuff.  Here's the top 10 best things about traveling in Europe:

10. mass-transportation - Europe has a rail system organized across 22 different countries.  I don't think America could even get 22 states to agree on anything.  The system in Europe works, it's clean for the most part and makes traveling much more affordable and convenient   
9. green space - Because of the way that many Europeans cities are set-up, farms are closely integrated into many cities.  This adds to the level of green space which is always a nice thing.

8. Orangina - this stuff rocks, it should be everywhere.

7. bottled water - If you're going to drink stupid amounts of bottled water, at least be classy about it like the Europeans.  Get it in nice bottle and make some claims about "minerals."

6. the dollar coin - It's incredibly convenient.  I loved the Sacajawea coin we had and I don't think people really gave it a chance.
5. fast food - A quick snack in Paris is a freshly baked croissant or crepe.  In Switzerland it's lovely role with cured meats and flavorful cheeses.  It doesn't have to be fancy to be good and it doesn't have to be deep-fried to be fast.
4. alcohol - Beer and wine seem to be available everywhere.  This isn't a good thing because it meant that I could be drunk all the time but rather it reflected a relaxed attitude towards drinking that was more about appreciation and not so much about getting drunk.    
3. restaurant service - If you are trying to get in and out of a restaurant in Paris in 40 minutes, just go to McDonald's because it's not going to happen in a nice Bistro.  So just give up on that idea, embrace the European restaurant experience which can last as much as two hours or more and enjoy a long and relaxed meal service.

2. punctuality - It's a great concept.  If you think that a train leaving on time in stressful think about a train consistently being late anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes when you are trying to get somewhere by a certain time.

1. dogs - Dogs can go anywhere in Paris and Switzerland and it's awesome.  In Switzerland it is illegal to cut off dogs tails for cosmetic reasons (which is a regular practice for many breeds in America) and dog owners are required to take training classes with their dogs.  This results in dogs walking off leash in public places who are well-behaved.  We saw many dogs in restaurants in Paris and no it wasn't gross and as much of a health code nightmare as Americans think.  It was fine, it was cute and showed that America's limitations of dog owner's rights based on worst case scenarios really are both silly and irrational.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Buffy Gets Attacked - Part 1: "I Love You" eyes

Below is part one of a six part series about a recent incident when Buffy was attacked by another dog.  Buffy fortunately got through this experience without any permanent physical or mental damage.  

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Sitting at my friend’s wedding, listening to this Bible passage I had no idea how in less than twenty-four hours, one of the scariest moments in my life would prove to me the truth in these words.

For the past two years I’ve written about Buffy, my little Shetland Sheepdog. I’ve reflected on the events in Buffy’s life, what it means to have a dog and how Buffy has changed my life.

There’s been some tough moments in the past two years, like the time Buffy ate some gum and I had to induce vomiting, when Buffy got spayed, and the first time Buffy went on a plane.  Those things were tough but I never doubted Buffy would be okay through those experiences. At the end of it all, these moments were probably harder for me than they were for Buffy. However the moment I alluded to earlier was something very different.

Diana and I took Buffy to a park for a meet-up with some friends and their dogs. One of the people that was there was a dog named Molly, an Australian cattle dog. When we first met Molly and her owner Amy a couple weeks ago, Amy made it clear to us that Molly was aggressive towards dogs and she took great care to keep her at a save distance from other dogs.

One of the other people who was at the park was another one of our friends, Elizabeth who is a dog trainer. She suggested some training exercises that seemed fun so we did some training work while we were at the park.

Elizabeth set us up for an exercise where a dog on leash had to walk pass some dogs who were sitting or laying down and keep walking straight and pay attention to his or her owner. Buffy started out as the dog sitting down while other dogs walked passed. My girl is kind of a flirt, so it was a challenge for the other dogs to walk by without wanting to say hi but they did pretty well.

Then it was Buffy’s turn to be the dog walking on leash.

Molly’s owner put her in a down position lying on the grass. Diana, leash in hand, started walking Buffy passed Molly. Buffy trotted along happily looking up to Diana with her “I love you,” eyes, when Molly lunged at Buffy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 17-19: Experiencing Paris

Eiffel Tower . . . like you didn't know what this was . . .
Arc de Triomphe

After visiting some of the most famous attractions on the earth, I’ve realized that I’m not really into sightseeing.  Now don’t get me wrong I loved visiting all of these amazingly places that you see in all of these pictures.  So what’s my problem?  It’s the difference between “sightseeing” and “sight experiencing.” 
Can you imagine walking into Pete Miller’s, one of the greatest steak houses in Chicago going up to a table and taking a picture of their signature bone-in T-bone steak and then leaving? 
Diana thinking in front of the thinker.
Rodin's GATES OF HELL!!!!!!

Then why would you go into a museum, take a thousand pictures and then rush off to another site.  Diana and I saw numerous tour groups clustering around paintings (with clear signs saying not to take pictures) boxing everyone out, taking a ridiculous amount of pictures and then moving on to the next painting. 
REALLY?!?  Is your picture of the Mona Lisa going to be any better than a postcard that you can buy in the lobby or see online? 
Yes there are some sites that are best experienced by taking pictures.  The Eiffel tower and the Arch de Trimophe are monuments.  These monuments are supposed to be looked and if you take pictures of them, they are big enough that it really doesn’t disturb people around you if you take a picture.
 Burghers of Calais . . . they're sad because they got caught
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

Art is a different story.  Sculptures and paintings are meant to be looked at and walked around to view different angles and perspectives.  If taking pictures helps you remember the experiences I can understand that.  In Rodin’s garden and with Winged Victory in the Lourve, the space is set up for you to do that but most of the time in the Lourve for example taking pictures really takes away from other people’s enjoyment of the art. 
We saw SO many people just walk up to a piece of art, take a picture and immediately leave. 

Kind of missing the point people. 
Gates of Versailles
fondling the bushes in the gardens of Versailles
"It's like a floral pattern threw-up all over the room."
My favorite experience and the clearest example of my point was our visit to Notre Dame. Most people come to Notre Dame, take pictures and climb up to the church and see the gargoyles. Instead Diana and I decided to experience Notre Dame the way it was meant to be: by attending a church service.

Even though I didn’t go to church growing up, I’ve attended a lot of church services whether it was singing in the Northwestern University Chapel Choir or visiting Diana’s family’s church. This Vespers service at the Notre Dame Cathedral was one of the most powerful church services I’ve ever experienced

The cantor’s voice, the organ, the Latin text, and the smell of the incense all made sense in this space. Even though I couldn’t understand most of the service, as it was all in Latin, it was incredibly moving. I even felt tears welling up during the Magnificat during the line: Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.

The Lourve
Winged Victory . . . not to be confused with "armed" victory . . . heehee
What made these sites famous was that there was some special meaning behind the experience people had with them. It’s when you seek out that experience that you understand the deep personal meaning that makes these places important to our humanity.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 16: The Worst Of Times . . . in Paris

After navigating our luggage around the Vienna train station (that was under construction), taking the airport train (seriously ,if you are going to make an airport train why make it force the passengers to go up to the second floor of the train with their luggage), surviving a not-so-smooth flight to Paris and a death-defying taxi ride to the hotel with a "roll down the window and scream at people out of road rage” cab driver, Diana and I REALLY just wanted to settle in our hotel.

We had booked the Standard Design Hotel in the Bastille district months ago, so we were a pretty surprised when they told us that they were overbooked for the night. The man at the desk told us that he had a room for the remainder of our nights and that they found a hotel that was of the same quality for us to stay in for the one night.

We weren’t happy but it seemed like that would work out. So they got us a cab and we got to Hipotel Butte Chaumount. From the moment we walked in the hotel it was clear that it was not the same level as the Standard Design Hotel, which was a three star hotel. Hipotel was like a no star hotel, seriously.

Diana and I knew from the disgusting smell of the reception area that this was not a place we could imagine staying. When we saw the room we were sure of it. It was disgusting.

Diana called up the Standard Design Hotel, complained to them, and used some language that offended their French sensibilities. At the end of the conversation the manager apologized but they were unable to find another solution. We tried in vain for an hour to find another hotel but we couldn’t. So we resolved to just deal with it for the night.

We got the key to our room and as I opened the door there was a naked French lady sitting on the bed. After realizing that they gave us a different room then they had previously, we dropped our luggage off in the new room and went out to get dinner. Basically, in this place one key opens most of the rooms. So your belongings are super secure.

One of my friends Rob had suggested a restaurant for us, Le Petit Nicois, in a much nicer part of town in view of the Eiffel Tower. As we walked down the street towards the restaurant we spotted the 7 Eiffel Hotel, which was clearly a much better hotel in a great part of town.

We walked into this amazing looking lobby and found out that they had rooms open for the time we needed, not for that night but for the remainder of our stay. The price was more and we weren’t sure about the cancellation policy of the Standard Design Hotel, so we decided to deal with it in the morning.
The hallway outside our room at Hiptoel

Back at Hipotel we had one of hardest nights we’ve had as a couple. The bathroom was barely functional, the carpet was mysteriously wet, there was barely room to walk around the room and the parts of the bed were moist. There was also a disgusting stale smell that prevented us both from sleeping.  We laid clothes on the bed, made pillows out of our jackets (there was no way I was getting underneath that cover) and tried in vain to sleep.

The room was really warm so we opened the window to sounds of people throwing up, partying and riding scooters. Neither of us could sleep and by 2 a.m. we just gave up. We played "Up" on the DVD player and that distracted us enough to sleep until 6 a.m. when we promptly packed up and bolted out of the hotel.

As we gave the key back to the guy in the lobby who we woke up from his nap, Diana took some pictures of the lobby to prove how badly Standard Design Hotel had messed up. The man in the lobby freaked out and in his bad English insisted that Diana let him delete pictures off our camera. He threatened to call the police and after that night we had enough so we just left and grabbed a cab back to the Standard Design Hotel.

At the Standard Design Hotel, the manager wasn’t there and Diana had such a bad taste in her mouth about this place that she wanted to stay somewhere else. (Standard Design Hotel was also more than 40 minutes away from any of the attractions by train.) We called 7 Eiffel and they still had a rooms for us, so we decided to ditch Standard Design Hotel. We called our travel agent and they agreed that they had messed up by not having a room for us and that they would get our money back.

We checked into 7 Eiffel, and after running around Paris in our lack-of-sleep daze, seeing the Musée d'Armée, the Eiffel Tower, and having an AMAZING croissant, our room was ready at 7 Eiffel and it was the greatest room ever.

A couple words of advice: Hotels taking reservations and then sending you to another place after taking your money happens in Europe. It’s important to be careful and double-check your reservations. Having a travel agent helps with cancellation fees and finding hotels in a pinch. (Although, to be honest, our travel agent couldn't get us out of this bind.)

Thanks go out to our friend Renée who helped us out with this situation, our travel agent, Rob for the restaurant recommendation that helped us find our new hotel and our moms. Yeah, we totally both called our moms when we ended up as the Hipotel asking for advice and they were both really helpful.

Throughout this entire situations Diana and I didn’t get into a fight. When Diana freaked out over the phone, I was calm and when I was freaking out during dinner, Diana was able to make me laugh. I think I would have cried if I was alone in Hipotel and having Diana there to get through that miserable night really did give me strength.

Our first 12 hours in Paris were the worst of times, but after that it’s been one great experience after another. Every vacation has its issues and this was the hardest one we’ve ever dealt with, but we got through it and when I get back to the states I have some serious hotel reviewing to do online.

Never forget, all things must pass, both good and bad.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 15: Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Instead of spending our only full day in Vienna looking at museums, palaces and concert halls we traveled two and a half hours West of Vienna to Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
This concentration camp was one of the first opened by the Nazis in 1938 and one of the last liberated in 1945. While initially of the prisoners brought to this camp were political and ideological opponents, as the war went on prisoners of war and Jews were also brought to this camp. At the end of the war Mauthausen housed more than 19,000 prisoners. In the time the camp was open almost 200,000 people were deported to Mauthausen in the seven years it was open.

This labor camp had one the highest death rates in all of the concentration camps. Around 100,000 inmates died in this camp and the satellite camps from beatings, being shot, freezing to death, being executed in gas chambers and being worked to death.

When Diana brought up the idea of going to the camp to me I told her I wanted to think about it. Initially I wasn’t really sure about the visit. I was scared of something. I’m wasn’t sure what. Partially I was worried of how I would react but more than that I was intimidated at the idea of visiting a place of such devastating tragedy.

After thinking about it for half a day I told Diana that I though it would be a great idea to go. Any emotional challenge, cost in money or traveling time is barely a shadow of the ordeal people went through in this place. I had a feeling that this was something special and something important.

I couldn’t imagine telling people that I had the chance to go and chose not to. While I’m not proud that the potential reactions of other people motivated me to go, part of me feel that it’s okay. Going to this place might be as much for the people in my life as it is for myself.

After two gloomy and half-raining days in Salzburg we were greeted at Mauthausen with blinding sunlight. Amongst fields of wildflowers stood this fortress, this place of evil and tragedy. As my eyes squinted to adjust to the brightness of the sunlight, it all seemed like a dream as Diana and I walked up to the camp.

Behind the camp there are a series of memorials from different countries. They are beautiful, honorable and heart wrenching. Most of all they are silent. This whole place is silent. While there were visitors all over the camp, all you heard were some birds and insects traveling through the wildflowers.

As I walked through the main courtyard where prisoners stood for roll call for honors on end, I couldn’t help but think how benign this place felt. It was just a huge wall with a series of rectangular buildings in it. But the knowledge of what happened in this place transformed it into something very powerful. More than that, there was something in the air. And as I walked down into the crematorium that feeling almost became suffocating.

The crematorium was the place where they disposed of the bodies. At first they cremated one body at a time but later the Nazis ruthlessly threw in as many as ten bodies at a time. This was not motivating by respect as modern cremations are but rather by a need to dispose of bodies in the quickest and least public way.

I walked through one room that had one oven and another that had two. Each was decorated with plaques and flowers honoring people who had died in the camp. There was a room with a stone slab in which dead bodies were laid down so that the golden teeth could be removed. The main gas chambers were closed that day but I walked through one of the smaller chambers where others were murdered.

Walking through these rooms I felt a mix of emotions but more than anything I felt gratitude. It was an honor for me to come into this place and be able to remember the dead by visiting these rooms. It was a privilege for me to be in this place and I’m truly thankful to the people who made sure this place was maintained.

After leaving the crematorium I knelt down and picked up a small rock from the ground and turned it over in my hand. It felt real. This place was real. I never doubted the horror of these camps but the tragedy was incomprehensible for me. Being here, touching this place made the unbelievable seem less foreign and impossible to ignore.

Some say that we remember the holocaust to make sure that it will never happen again. While I agree with this sentiment I also believe that it’s important that we remember this tragedy for another reason. This camp help us understand the potential for the evil in our nature and reminds us not take for granted the peace and love that we share with each other every day.

It’s taken me some time to process this experience and it probably will take more time for me to understand what visiting Mauthausen really means to me. Any closing comment I write just doesn’t seem to capture this place, so I will leave you with an image.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 13 & 14: The Sound Of Music Tour!!

In Salzburg we took two bus tours.  The Sound Of Music Tour and The Eagles Nest Tour (which is actually in Germany).  The latter tour was amazing but the Sound Of Music Tour had a mediocre guide who wasn't very enthusiastic and made some pretty bad jokes, that nobody laughed at.  So this post will be pictures from the two tours interspersed with actually quotes from The Sound Of Music Tour Guide.  Oh yeah and no one sang along to the songs on the bus except for Diana which was totally awesome.   I mean why go on the tour if you're not into the musical?

 People now have blackberries, some call them crack berries.

They were running and Greta tripped and no one cared.

Julie Andrews went up the mountain in a horse carriage.  Imagine with her fur coat going up a mountain. There were a lot of cows there so she first had to find a clean spot to put her coat.

The building is a university and they filled the two love scenes in the gazebo behind the building.  After the film came out many people came to the gazebo and made their own love scenes.  All these love sounds meant the students couldn't study so they city decided to move the gazebo.

The first public swimming pool is on the left. It as first filled in the 1960s and it stills looks like it.

The building is a university and they filled the two love scenes in the gazebo behind the building.  After the film came out many people came to the gazebo and made their own love scenes.  All these love sounds meant the students couldn't study so they city decided to move the gazebo.

Over in that pasture are the black cows that we use for black chocolate.

When they got married.  She was 22 and the captain was 25 years . . . older.

The wife would stay home as the husband was in the field farming.  The wife would make lunch and ring the bell.  When the husband heard the bell he knew it was time to come home. . . And not only for lunch.

Do you see the bay window? That's the toilet. That's why we have shitty weather here.

Men had to climb a mountain to get edelweiss for their girlfriends and sometimes it was dangerous. Well now you know why we have such a low population. Now the tradition is different. Woman bring edelweiss to men as a six pack.  We now have edelweiss beer.

People come from miles around to yodel. I don't call my husband, I yodel to him. Just kidding. I need 5 beers then I know how to yodel. So far I've only had 4.

We are going to stop at the gazebo so you can have your own love scene.