Saturday, April 30, 2005

Crime is war on a small scale

Just found a great rant at Trolling for Tin Foil (via Major K):

Forget Peace. It's a myth- If you want to test this theory, try yanking the cops off the streets and protest in the worst neighborhoods you can find. That's what these places are- A Microcosm of the places that we fight in. Crime is war on a very small scale. Every gang leader is a small-time dictator, running his world as he sees fit, solely for the benefit of himself and his homies. Start ther- When you get that fixed then I'll pay attention to you. Until then- You're out of touch and irrelevant.

Tanz in den Mai

May Day in Germany is a big deal. It is officially Labor Day, but unofficially it’s an excuse to get really drunk the night before (April 30th) and then get up late the next day, and do more drinking. A few years ago, I used to spend May Day walking for miles with friends, and drinking the whole way, often pulling a wagon full of beer behind us.

But since living in the city the only tradition I participate in is Tanz in den Mai, which literally means “Dance into May”: you have to go out and party April 30th, and drink lots of May Punch (a spiked fruit punch) and dance into the wee hours of May 1st.

Last year I was going to go out with a few friends for Tanz in den Mai. My then-boyfriend wasn’t going to be able to come until the next day, but I was going to go out with a few German friends and an Air Force friend stationed at Spangdahlem was going to come up with four friends. I had also been emailing and chatting with an American soldier for a couple of weeks, and I thought he might enjoy having a taste of this German celebration.

He had recently come back from a year in Iraq. When we first started emailing, I was almost disappointed. I had wanted another pen pal the desert, my own personal war correspondent (this was before milbloggers were really big). But, nevertheless we would chat occasionally, and he sent me quite a few pictures of his stay in the desert, and told me what he could. But he really didn’t have much to say. And he was a slow-typer.

Although we had a few things in common, a love of cycling and traveling, there was zero chemistry between us. Which was good, considering I had a boyfriend. So I had no reservations in asking him if he would like to celebrate May 1st with us too. I explained to him that my boyfriend would be arriving the next day so I couldn’t entertain him for long, but he was welcome to join us Friday night.

I went to go meet him at the train station. His train was late, but it didn’t bother me, as I had bought a book. I stood in front of the station occasionally looking up to see if someone resembling the photo I had seen was walking out. About 20 minutes later a young man walked out, with a black backpack and had a bouquet of flowers in his hands. And then he just stood there. I was bemused, thinking this was going to be cute to watch this man be reunited with his girlfriend (I am a sucker for those meeting scenes, like at the beginning and end of “Love Actually” of people seeing each other after having been apart for a while). And he just stood there, and I just stood there…and I started to think: “poor guy, his girlfriend is late, and he is standing there with this beautiful bouquet of flowers.” And then the penny dropped. But I still wasn’t that sure. And finally he decided he had been waiting too long, and he took out his cell phone and made a call. And I thought: “well, if the phone rings…” And my phone rang.

He said, “I am standing in front of the station.” And I asked: “Are you holding a bouquet of flowers?” “Yep.” “Well, then, I can see you.” He started looking around, and then saw me walking over to him. We hung up, and then I shook hands with the guy who was to become the love of my life, my vanilla ice-cream chocolate pudding pie, my banana that never split (5 gold stars for anyone who knows what I am quoting).

It was slightly awkward. He gave me the flowers, and I thought, “um, what part of “I have a boyfriend” didn’t he understand?" I gave him a tour of the cathedral. We had a few beers in a café. We bumped into a friend of mine, who was going to come over for dinner, and then we headed back to my place. He seemed very quiet and reserved and I thought, at least I wouldn’t get bored since we would be in a huge group that night.

Long story short: a month later I went to go visit him, and we have been together ever since. He is still quiet and reserved. He is still a slow typer. He still doesn’t talk that much about his job. But he is anything but boring. We have cycled together, gone skiing, traveled in eight different countries, and done many other things. By the way, total misrepresentation on his part: I never got any flowers again until Valentine’s Day this year...;-)

This morning I talked with him, and said: “hey, we met a year ago today.” And he replied: “What? We bet a year ago today? Huh?” “No, we MET.” “Oh, really? A year ago? Wow. Time flies.” Yep, time flies.

Happy May Day everyone!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chalabi, the peace maker

When I read the news of Ahmad Chalabi being appointed acting oil minister of Iraq, I was mystified. Why would you appoint such a controversial politician to such an important ministry?

But when I read this, something clicked:

"Dr. Ahmad may remain oil minister for weeks or months. It depends on reaching a political agreement," Nabil al-Moussawi, a senior Chalabi aide told Reuters.

This might encourage them to find an agreement sooner. Reminds me of when I was a kid, and my mother was making us decide between something, like grilled cheese sandwiches or pizza for dinner. And if we didn't decide quick enough, it would become: "grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, or a poke-in-the-eye?" And no, she never poked us in the eye, but we usually decided quickly after being faced with that third, scarier option.

Seems like Riverbend might not have been far off in a post she wrote back at the beginning of March called Chalabi for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dance, White Boy, Dance!

I found this clip via Sue over a week ago and since I still have to occasionally watch it, I thought I might share the joy with you guys, in case you haven't yet seen it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Anatomy of an Argument during Deployment

This week I had my first argument with my boyfriend.

I have known him for just over a year; we actually met in person less than a year ago.

And we get along fabulously. We never fight. I often have little complaints that are typical for women, which can be filed in the “Nagging” folder, but otherwise, we never really fought.

And now he has been deployed for 9 weeks and we had our first fight.

And it was one of the most harrowing and unsatisfactory experiences of my life. Imagine you are really, really angry with someone. And imagine they are really, really angry with you. And imagine your only source of communication is emails and phoning.

And imagine that neither of us was able to check emails regularly and he always missed me when he tried to call.

And imagine you don’t want to hurt someone who is thousands of miles away, but you can’t just let things fester because “oh, well, he’s deployed.”

So it started like this: I emailed him about an incident. He got angry about this incident and sent me an email saying so. I got angry at him for being angry with me, when I felt it was insignificant compared to the big picture, and then I just kind of lost it and all my aggravations with this deployment came to the surface. He got angry that I felt it was insignificant. And that is the summarized version of our emails back and forth over the last 7 days.

So he calls me. And I am in the bath. My mom rushes in with the phone. It’s a bad connection, and I can’t hear him. He calls back again, and this time it is a better connection, and we start talking…knowing full well that we have 15 minutes to resolve our differences.

And now I can laugh about it, and say, if more couples only had a 15 minute phone call to resolve their issues, problems might be solved a lot quicker. He had about 2 minutes griping about me, I had a 2 minute rebuttal, and then we were both so scared about this getting blown out of proportion that we would start sentences with: “I really love you BUT…” as if we were both afraid the connection would disconnect and the only point we had gotten across was what a bitch I was, or what a jerk he was.

After both licking our wounds, we slid into the making-up period after about 8 minutes. And although we had made-up we both had to still blurt out and assert our respective anger, but by now we both had mutual assurance that we both did want to work this out.

And then it became a mutual love fest, where we said how great the other person was, and how much we both wanted this to work out. And at about the 13 minute mark, we were back to chit chatting about this and that, both glad that we had worked things out. And by the time I hung up, I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about our relationship again.

But, hallelujah…that was an emotional work-out.

Really, sometimes I think how foolhardy and naïve I was about this deployment. This is nothing for the weak at heart. I keep on repeating the mantra that after a year we will be closer, because honestly, sometimes that is all that keeps me going.

A weekend in France

An old friend of mine got married this weekend in France, and my mother and I went to the wedding together. We stayed at another friend’s place. And this is where the fun began. If I have ever complained about how clueless some Americans are about the military and the situation in Iraq, I would have to say that is nothing compared to the ignorance I came across in France.

It can best be summed up with the following exchange. I was talking about the Chinook crash in Afghanistan, and the shock of when death comes close to home. And I mentioned my widowed friend. After mulling this over, my French friend asks: “And is she angry at Bush?” That question was like a slap in the face to me.

I don’t know the answer to that question, basically because in our hours of discussion she never even said anything remotely to blaming Bush for her husband’s death. Perhaps she secretly does, but she never mentioned it. She did say that two weeks later they, and I am quoting her here, “caught the f*ckers” who had set the IEDs that killed her husband and his buddies.

I mean, I guess she could be angry at the guys who set the IEDs, or the guys who paid those guys. She could be angry that Bush decided to invade Iraq. She could be angry that terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center. She could be angry that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for that attack. She could be angry that the Taliban harbored Al Qaida and OBL. She could blame Clinton for not doing more against Al Qaida and OBL before. She could be angry and blame any one of the many dominos that fell and put her husband in a street in Baghdad in the summer of last year, near enough to the explosion of an IED that it ultimately led to his death.

But instead she chooses to focus her anger on the terrorists. Those who aim to destroy what her husband was fighting to construct. And I think she blames her husband a lot. For joining the National Guard. For volunteering for a tour he didn’t have to go on. For being on that street, and while helping others hurt by a previous IED, getting wounded in a second IED explosion.

This is not to say she didn’t complain about things…did you know for example, that National Guard soldiers don’t have APO addresses? Which means they can’t benefit from the fact that all intra-military post is free. For example, a spouse here in Germany or the US can send their soldier in Iraq a package weighing up to 70 pounds for free. Not to mention free postage for all letters. I hope that someone in Congress wises up about that one and will make it possible for the family of soldiers to send packages to them from any post office for free.

I digress.

I was so shocked by my friend’s question, that all I could muster was a stuttered “no.” They bandy about with such terms as the Bush Devil or Bishitler in France, and they pretend that they understand the world so well, however they seem to be perfectly okay with their president giving Robert Mugabe a state’s welcome to France two years ago. They seem to be perfectly okay with French and Moroccan UN soldiers raping children they are supposed to be protecting in the Congo. They turn a blind-eye to France’s involvement in the Oil-for-Food scandal.

It got even better when I started talking about the difference between Germany/France and the US when it comes to businesses. In America, businesses are seen as organizations which either produce a product or offer a service. And in Europe it seems like businesses’ reason for existing is to create jobs. But there seems to be a non-connect between the importance of a company making a profit, and the resulting ability to busy employees. All you hear about here is the social responsibility a company has to employ people.

There was a great short report on TV yesterday about German white asparagus. It is in season now, and the German growers, despite the highest unemployment rate in years, still have to get people from Poland to harvest the asparagus. One farmer was supposed to interview for employment 30 people referred by the local unemployment office, but none of the 30 turned up. The TV crew interviewed people going into the unemployment office about their unwillingness to harvest the asparagus, and they all gave reasons why they couldn’t: back problems, not interesting, the pay wasn’t high enough, etc. Then they interviewed the Polish harvesters about what they thought about the situation. They said Germans were lazy, Germans got too much welfare, and German obviously prefer eating to working.

In France they have more problems than in Germany, because at least German industry still has a good export market. Everyone is making more and more demands on their government, but doesn’t seem willing to do anything for it. The Front National, which is basically the French neo-Nazi party, got 17% at the last elections.

And I made some comment about Europe not being able to continue along this track much longer, when my French friend just exploded and said that America was terrible, it was unfair, blah blah blah. I don’t pretend that America’s system is perfect, but it is functioning. Clinton started tweaking the welfare system and Bush is now working on social security. Our politicians are capable of steering us on a different course, whereas the Europeans are still are aimed for a crash. And seeing that she is wrong, she says to me: “well, we just have different ways of seeing things, but they are both right. The French system has worked for hundreds of years and will still work in the future.” Um, no. My way of seeing things is realistic, yours is fantasy filled. I asked her if she honestly believed that the French system would continue to work in the future (not to even mention the hundreds of years comment). And she said, well, a few tweaks were necessary, but otherwise everything was okay.

I wanted to ask her if the French government had become more lenient in their drug policy lately, because she was obviously high.

There were a few moments of comedy for me over the weekend: at the wedding, one guy in his 60s came in uniform. I think it might have been the French Navy uniform. And he had one medal pinned on it. Well, now any American soldier coming out of basic training has about 3 medals…so it is strange to see an elderly military man with just one measly medal. It was a real indication of the lack of action the French military sees. I really had to bite my tongue to not ask: “Is that what you got for sinking the Rainbow Warrior?”

But I do have to say: I love France…it’s just the French that annoy me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Remembering Big Windy 25

Blackfive has a post about the 18 Americans who lost their lives in the crash of Big Windy 25.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Poo and Poop of Flight Briefings

Funny story told to me by a friend whose husband is also deployed with the same unit as my boyfriend.

Apparently he was at a flight briefing with another pilot. And the guy giving the briefing kept on saying something that sounded like "the poo." He didn't pay much attention to it until after the briefing, when the other pilot asked him if he noticed the guy kept on saying "the poo." He hadn't really.

So the next flight briefing, the lady giving the briefing once again said "the poo." And this time both guys start cracking up, because they are juvenile and can't help but think that she is saying "poo" the whole time. Finally, he had to ask what she meant by "the poo." To which she replied: Point Of Origin. So he asked: why don't you just say that?

I found this story extremely amusing, because it sort of reminds me of the story Emperor’s New Clothes. For those culturally ignorant among my readers (I am referring to my German readers, who sometimes don’t have a grasp on American culture…and the story I am referring to doesn’t have much notoriety here in Germany), this fairy tale is about an emperor who likes to dress up in pretty clothes. So one day some shysters come to his palace and say they are going to make him some gorgeous clothes out of the most beautiful fabric ever, fabric which is only visible to highly enlightened people. There really is no fabric and no clothes, but everyone pretends to see the clothes being made, because they want to be considered enlightened. And one day the king goes out to parade his new outfit, and a little child, oblivious to the whole story about the clothes only being visible to enlightened people yells out: “Hey, the emperor is nekkid!” And everyone laughs, because it’s the truth.

And that is what I think about some military acronyms. I mean, just because it is a military acronym meaning Point of Origin, like the emperor standing nekkid in the middle of the road, you are still standing in front of a group of soldiers saying “poo.”

Apparently, they are now trying to figure out a definition for the acronym POOP, and are going to try to bring it into briefings. Here are a few suggestions: Principals of Operation, Pre-Owned Office Products…or my personal favorite: People Order Our Patties (Sponge Bob Square Pants.)

Soldiers' Deaths in Theater versus in Garrison

This weekend I talked with two infantry officers who had been deployed to Iraq, and are going to return for another deployment before the year's end. And I made some comment about life insurance, asking how difficult it was to get insured as a soldier, thinking that most insurance companies wouldn't want to insure soldiers, because of the danger of their profession.

And their response surprised me. They said it wasn't any more difficult to get insurance than for most people.

But what about going to war? Didn't that worry the insurance companies, I asked.

Nope, they replied. In fact, their battalion has lost more soldiers here in garrison since being back from Iraq last summer, than during their whole deployment. Car accidents, skiing accidents and suicide have proven more costly to them in 9 months in Germany, than all incidents in the 15 months they were in Iraq.

That is certainly food for thought.

Monday, April 18, 2005

German Southern Baptist?

This weekend I ran a half-marathon with some friends. We were in the refreshment area after the race eating bananas and drinking juice, when a German approached us, and started speaking English with us. He had run the race too, and was with his two sons. He explained that his younger son was in a hurry to get home, because he had to study for an English test that he had the next day. And so we chit-chatted a little with the friendly guy. I was with a German friend of mine, and an American stationed here in Germany. And suddenly our interlocutor asked me if I could read what was written on the back of his shirt. He turned around and it was a passage out of the Bible in German. And I thought, uh oh. Great. And then he started proselytizing and trying to drag us into a conversation about God. I decided this was a good moment to see if our two other fellow runners had made it over the finish line yet, so I told the guy that we had to get going. So as we three started to walk away, and already had our backs to the guy, he yelled out something.

I turned around and smiled at him, and walked away a little quicker. But that is something I will never forget. We were all baffled and cracking up about it. I mean, I think that will be something I will never again experience in my life: a German yelling “God Bless America!”

Thursday, April 14, 2005


In a little over a week, an old friend of mine will be getting married.

Last week I bought a little black blazer to go with a black skirt I already have. The blazer has a nice embroidered detailing around the edges in many colors. As I was buying the blazer at the cash register, I realized how sombre I was going to look despite the colored detailing, dressed all in black at the wedding. So I dashed away from the register and grabbed a pastel purple shawl. In explanation to the cashier I said: "I am going to a wedding, not a funeral."

Well fate should have it, that I will wear that blazer first at a memorial this weekend, before I wear it at the wedding for which it was intended.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


It’s been about four days since my life was temporarily whacked off course. And now that I am back on course, I realize that I take my steps a little more deliberately, and a little more hesitantly. I realize that the ground below me can fall away without notice.

I was just chatting with one of the other wives, and she was saying how afraid she is that she will get cheated out of her fairytale life, too. The helicopter crash was a slap in the face to everyone, not just the families that lost someone. It was a reality check.

It wasn’t as if we weren’t aware of the dangers, it was just that we really didn’t think that something this bad could happen. Perhaps a crash landing, but not such a deadly crash. We were confronted with death, with the reality of how quickly loved ones can be taken away from us, how quickly our whole lives can be taken away from us.

In the aftermath of every accident, people start to reassess their lives. People who have been confronted with death or near-death, either their own, or friends or loved-ones, start seeing their lives in a different light.

My experience of the accident was completely different from my boyfriend’s. We haven’t yet talked about, except for the simplest details. I imagine it went something like this: They probably heard there was a helicopter that didn’t make it back yet, that they had lost contact with. At that point they probably thought it was a communications issue. Then they probably were notified by Afghani officials on the ground that a helicopter had crashed, and they realized it was their buddies. At that point they probably hoped that there were survivors. When they realized that there were no survivors, the numb shock probably set in. Probably a few people knew which crew was missing, and that was spread around informally.

And then they waited. And waited. And waited. For two days they weren’t allowed to contact family and friends. They weren’t allowed to give us a sign of life. It wouldn’t be fair to the families of those who perished, they have priority. And even though they probably wanted to tell us they were alright, knowing the anguish we were going through, they had some comfort knowing that our anguish would eventually end. But a few families anguish was just beginning.

For all intents and purposes the whole unit was pretty much put on hold. There were no flights. So what does one do for two days, after friends have died, and you have no work to throw yourself into? I can imagine that some sat together and talked and cried, and some shut themselves away, wanting to run as far away from there as possible, but were stuck. Stuck in a place which just reminded them even more of the tragedy. No matter where they went, or who they met, they were all in the same boat. They probably wanted to cry a lot, but they were afraid, because they didn’t know if they could stop crying once they started. Sleep brought no rest. Their mind was still dealing with the trauma and wouldn’t release them to the sandman.

And I can imagine at that moment, they started thinking about their lives. They started missing their family more than ever before, missing the life they left behind for a year. Realizing how precious life is. They would like to hold their loved ones, and touch them, more than the whole time they have been there. I can imagine that some people were thinking of things they would like to say and do. Wanting to make sure that their loved ones know how much they are loved. Or making promises to themselves.

My experience was similar, however different. It was more focused on just my boyfriend. Not my whole life. I realize that seeing him during R&R is going to be heart-breaking. When I see him and hug him for the first time, the hug will no longer be a “I am so happy you are here, and I missed you so much”-hug, it’s going to be a “I am so happy you’re alive, and I don’t know how I am ever going to let you go again”-hug. When I came so close to losing him (in my mind it was close, because for about 30 hours, it could have been him), it will now be hard to forget that.

I don’t think a tragedy like this needs to happen for us for us to realize what is precious. I think I was always aware on a certain level, but somehow this experience has strengthened my love for him, even though we went through this separately. I don’t want to become afraid for him all the time now. That would be debilitating. But I do appreciate what I have more, when I came so close to losing it.

Nothing will ever bring back those who died. Life is bittersweet. If we didn’t have the bitter, we might never truly appreciate the sweet.

Friday, April 08, 2005


Yesterday when I heard the news that my boyfriend was alright, I was okay. I slept like a log and woke-up rested this morning. I came to work chipper, but when I was sitting in front of my lunch tray in the cafeteria I realized I had no appetite. I forced myself to eat something, but after a few minutes I realized I was fighting against tears, against being sick.

Usually I nag my boyfriend to call and email me more, but now I am just happy with the knowledge that he is alright. He could go a month without calling me now, and I would be okay with that. My heart goes out to him right now. I wish I could hold him, and tell him how much he means to me. And I wish I could be there for him. The whole unit must be under considerable shock.

I think everyone is in mourning right now. Mourning those lost and mourning the days we had of blissful ignorance of the possible dangers. The unit made it through a deployment in Iraq with no casualties, so Afghanistan seemed like a piece of cake. I did realize that the biggest danger they would be facing would be weather. Also they are flying over a lot of mountains at pretty high altitudes and I knew that would also be an issue. But somehow, I always thought, "well, they are experienced." And somehow that was translated into my mind, as "they are invincible."

I think the worst thing about this experience was the hours of not knowing. The hours of emotional limbo. Part of me just wanted to know...but another part of me kept on saying "not knowing still holds hope."

I cursed the news for telling us about the accident, telling us just enough, so we knew for sure that it was our unit, but then leaving us hanging when it came to what we wanted to know most. The emotional turmoil caused by letting thousands of people know that someone they love is possibly dead is an incredible power. The news struck fear into everyone I knew. I am thankful for The Information Age, but I curse the fact that the news is faster in reporting on deaths than the military is notifying families about casualties.

I am very thankful for my friends. I was supposed to have coffee with my friend who lost her husband in Iraq and another close friend. They both came over at 4PM and another friend joined later. They didn't leave until 1:30AM and one of them spent the night. I can't thank them enough. They allowed me to worry, but didn't allow me go into an abyss of worry.

Although I am grateful for everyone's comforting (cyber included), I am especially grateful for my widowed friend. It was obviously something she would have rather avoided. She even admitted later that she cursed when she heard the news, and was asking why this couldn't have happened when she wasn't here. But somehow being with someone, who had gone through casualty notification with the worse case scenario as a result, comforted me.

At about 8PM I finally decided that their suggestion of having a drink might be a good idea. So we opened a bottle of red wine and we toasted to my boyfriend. And we opened a bag of chips. (This is going to sound morbid, but I was conscious of eating chips that I didn't really like that much, and thought that was a good thing, because it would be terribly tragic if I were eating salt and vinegar chips when I got the news of my boyfriend's death, and then would have a life long aversion to my favorite chips...yes, your mind does crazy things when under stress, as if in an attempt to keep some sort of control over a situation where one is just helpless.) Actually, most of the evening resembled a girls' night, except the fear that ripped through our hearts everytime the phone rang. It was a kind of surreal evening.

I got an email from my American friend yesterday afternoon:

It is very difficult to go through a deployment, even if it is an "easy" one. When they are so far away it makes everything harder and with yesterday as an example the media always reports the bad news. If you ever want to vent about the military, or say good things, or freak out because the news reported something bad please feel free to always contact me if it helps. I'm not always the first one people want to talk to since my situation ended the way it did, but I do understand the waiting, the unknowing and the frustration in general of a deployment and of dating a military boy.

It was nice to hang out yesterday even if there was a grey cloud over the evening.

It was definitely an evening I will never forget, and the best evening I could have had under the circumstances. It was a celebration of friendship and life. And I am relieved that I can look back on it as such, and not as a schism between my life up to then, and the life that would have come after losing my boyfriend. And I feel terrible about those families who are living that schism right now.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

He's ok

But it's bittersweet. Rejoicing still means that I am celebrating that he wasn't among the 4 from the unit that were killed. But...I'm rejoicing...when I got the call I smiled for about two minutes...and then I cried.

I'll post more about this later. Thank you for all the support. It really helped.

No News is good news?

Well, haven't heard anything yet. No email from the commader, for the first time in 6 weeks, which is pretty indicative that it is definitely their unit.

Thanks for the kind words and I am hoping for the best...but I guess the best means, that I am not among those four families from the unit who will be hurting...and so that isn't a very exciting thing to hope for.

Can't really express or write more now, and I am sorry for my tone. I am just beyond being expressive right now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A helicopter crash in Afghanistan

I just saw on the internet news that there has been a Chinook crash in Afghanistan. I am pretty much sure that it is from my boyfriend's unit. There are no survivors. I can't even begin to express my worries right now.

Beautiful Photo Essay

I spent the last 10 minutes getting teary-eyed while looking at the 2005 Pulitizer Prize winner for Feature Photography:

Awarded to Deanne Fitzmaurice of the San Francisco Chronicle for her sensitive photo essay on an Oakland hospital’s effort to mend an Iraqi boy nearly killed by an explosion.

The photos are beautiful, bittersweet, heartwarming and uplifting all at once. And the photo essay is kind of like film boards of a family's struggle after a horrific event. You'll need tissues, though.

Update: has a whole section called Operation Lion Heart, with the story and more pictures about the family. There is even a video clip of a news piece about the father and son, and there is an interview with Saleh.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Watching Team America in a German movie theater

When Team America played here in Germany, the only theater nearby that played it, was showing it at an ungodly hour: 11PM…(Yes, I am getting old). But there is a theater nearby that shows movies a few months later, for a fraction of the original ticket price. So, everything comes to she who waits: last night I went to watch Team America, for 2,75 Euros…at a less ungodly hour (shortly before 10PM).

German humor is quite different from American humor, as is German taste in films.

For example, I can remember going to see Little Nicky here. That is the Adam Sandler film, where he plays one of the devil’s sons. Anyways, there is a scene in the movie, where Hitler is portrayed, in a ballet tutu with Mickey Mouse ears, and the devil has a pineapple in his hand, and is asking Hitler to bend over. Then you see Hitler’s face contort, and you imagine the pineapple is being shoved up his a**. This is typical Adam Sandler slap-stick…Well, I am the only one in the whole theater who laughed. Hitler is just a concept for us Americans. A concept of evil…for Germans, Hitler is a real part of their past. Hitler is not allowed to be used for something funny in Germany. There is no such thing as Nazi humor (i.e. don’t even think of making Seinfeld soup-Nazi jokes).

Also, another enlightening experience to the differences in German and America movie expectations came during an ancient history seminar. One day there was a class discussion about war movies…and we talked about Saving Private Ryan (don’t ask how the discussion veered into contemporary history). And there was a voice from the back of the class, which declared that the ending was too American. (You know who you are.)

Huh? I thought American was an adjective referring to someone or something’s nationality…I didn’t know that you could express degrees of that adjective. It seemed to me that it was like being pregnant…no such thing as a little pregnant or too pregnant.

However, I was to learn a new lesson. It was possible to be too American.

No one in the class knew that I was American, and at the time I didn’t have a great handle on the German language, so I didn’t pipe up…but now I certainly would. But I did remember the offending student, who explained that the reason SPR was too American was because that it was so well tied up at the end: of course the guy that Tom Hanks’ character lets go in mercy would later turn around and kill him. It was cut and dry American cause and effect reasoning…blah blah blah…well, I gave him the evil eye.

I can remember another time when I was renting a Band of Brothers DVD from the video store, that the guy behind the counter made a commentary regarding my choice saying: “yeah, that was a good American production…not like a lot of those other American war films which are just full of them saluting the American flag.” I must have looked pretty baffled, so he furthered with: “well, no one willingly throws themselves in front of bullets.” Oh, there was so much I could have said at that moment, but didn’t. I could have said, well, a lot of people do willingly throw themselves in front of bullets. In fact a lot of people willingly fly planes into towers, or blow themselves up in public. If he could understand the justification behind terrorists’ actions, why couldn’t he believe that many (US soldiers) willingly risk their lives too?

So, I digress. Last night as I sat down to watch Team America with a friend, we were joined by about 10 others. I was interested to see what their reception of the movie was going to be. I mean, did they realize that they were going to watch a movie, which is actually practically overt conservative propaganda? (By the way, if you haven’t seen it yet, go see The Incredibles also…and take your kids too…turn them into little capitalist neo-cons!) Well, the movie, despite it being dubbed in German for most parts (except the singing scenes), was fabulous! It’s a mixture between laughing at what is actually happening in the storyline…and laughing at the puppets used in the film and the self-deprecating humor. (I couldn’t figure out if they were real puppets, or if the film was animation made to look like puppets).

And of course, the best part of the film is the speech at the end. If George Bush wanted to cut the crap, he would get Trey Parker and Matt Stone to write some of his speeches. It’s too bad that he tries to put eloquently, what Gary Johnston can sum up so crudely.

Bottom line: For about an hour and a half, Team America united me and 10-15 other Germans. It seemed like no one in the audience was disappointed. No one complained about it being too American. Everyone laughed when Hans Blix said that if Kim Jong Il had to comply: “Or else we will be very angry with you... and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.” They laughed every time Matt Damon said: “Matt Damon.” They laughed when Gary Johnston puked…and puked….and puked. (That scene was so childish, but I could see it over and over and over again). Oh, and of course, we can’t forget the puppet-sex scenes. *Blush*

Go, Team America! (I would quote the film's song, but there would be too much editing of swear words).

Update: Sarah at Trying To Grok has a great post about American movie endings being the stuff that inspires us to try to reach the stars, instead of just accepting the sometimes mundane and depressing status quo like some European movies.