Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall settles in...

Today we took the dog for a leisurely Sunday walk, the kind where you linger and sight see, smell the roses, and so on.  And do you know what we saw?  We walked to our favorite local parish church, pictures of which can be found on Instagram (jmrosser), Twitter (@jmrosser58), or Pinterest (Julie Rosser).  The air was brisk and the sky was a bit overcast.  There was a definite breeze as we took a lefty and made our way toward the river, where a territorial swan swam up to the steps and promptly began hissing at our yellow lab. 
As we stood on the footbridge in the chilly wind, we saw trees changing colors, and closed off beaches.  Although the Eisdiele was still open and quite tempting, we had to admit that Fall has arrived in Vienna.
However, as it is our first fall here, we are looking forward to all it has to offer: changing leaves, Oktoberfest, Sturm, and hopefully more surpirses too!
And we can't wait for winter to bring us some pretty white snow, when we can break out the snowshoes and our skies currently crowding our abstellraum.
Don't forget that our cute little flat has heaters in perfect working order in every room, including the guest room.  When you come visit we can introduce you to yummu gluhwein...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brussels: a leap of faith

Jade collected her bags and was surprised when no one even questioned her at customs.  She even found the bus to the city center with relative ease.  In fact she was rather proud of herself, and enjoyed her bus ride while thinking to herself, ‘I’m in Belgium!’
Up until the point, that is, that the bus driver had to inform her, in English no less, that this was the last stop.  He had already said so in French, twice, and everyone else had gotten off the bus, but Jade was happily clueless.  Until she was mortified.  And, to make matters worse, she was travelling with an ungodly amount of luggage, so it took her a few moments to collect all of her things and arrange them in a fashion conducive to being moved off a bus by a single person. And thus, before she knew it, Jade was almost literally in a heap in the middle of Brussels, and she had no idea where she was, especially in relation to where she needed to be.  Nor did she exactly have a point of contact…
Surely this wasn’t what her parents had been so worried about, was it?  ‘I mean, worst comes to worst,’ she thought to herself, ‘ I can always stay in a hotel.’  Secretly this was tantamount to defeat to Jade, but she needed a little reassurance at this point, and she damned sure wasn’t going to call her mother for it.  Largely because she was afraid her mother would say ‘we told you so,’ and insist that Jade come home.
But Jade was out to prove herself, mostly to herself.  So after 15 or 20 minutes of fumbling through her guidebook and looking intently at the French/Flemish bus stop sign, Jade resigned herself and asked for help.  There was only one other person left nearby at that point, a middle aged gentlemen who replied to Jade’s question as she asked it, in French.  Of course, Jade couldn’t exactly understand his reply, as the only French she knew was what she had read out of a book on the plane ride just before. 
So, she calmly asked him back, “Je ne comprend pas; parlez vous Anglaise?”
He then told her, “Yes, the metro is just over there.  Where are you trying to go?” as he pointed across the circle.  Jade saw some escalators in the general area he had motioned toward.
“The American Embassy.  Do you know where that is?”  Now truthfully, let’s consider how many people randomly know where any embassy is in their own city, particularly an embassy that does not belong to their own country. 
But Jade was lucky this time, and the man told her, take the metro two stops and get off at Arts Loi.  You will find it a little ways down when you come out.” And with that, he left.
So, Jade set off toward the escalators, with a garment bag, a large purse, a backpack stuffed to capacity, and a large rolling suitcase.  She probably looked like a crazy person, but she was determined to fit in, and so she held her head high as she neared the subway.  The escalators seemed not to be working, which struck Jade as odd on a Monday morning, but because she didn’t want to be mistaken for an ignorant tourist, she was undaunted and took the adjacent stairs, her wheeled suitcase loudly slamming down every single step.  She did not realize that the escalators had motion sensors until, having arrived at Arts Loi and dragged all of her bags up the stairs, a woman walked right next to her, onto the lifeless escalator, and as she stepped on to it, the escalator jumped to life and carried her down into the metro.
One part of her wanted to laugh at her mistake, the other part was mortified that she had been revealed as a foreigner, and so Jade decided not to think about it.  After all, she was ultimately succeeding in her quest; she was, according to the man’s directions, almost to the Embassy.  Jade’s new place of work, starting tomorrow.
One thing that bothered her still, though, was how quiet the sidewalks and the streets were.  After all, it was Monday morning in the capital of the European Union – where was everyone?  But just as this question began to nag at Jade, she saw an American Flag out of the far left corner of her eye, and she thought to herself, ‘hah! I did it!’
Before she could gloat though, she had to once again dig through her rather large purse to find her passport.  And though she held it in her hand as she approached the embassy gate, the short marine outside stopped her anyway.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but we’re closed.”  He informed Jade.  Which is right about when she thought she felt her heart stop.
“What?! How can you be closed? I’m an American.  This is the American Embassy.  I have a job here and I don’t know anyone.  I don’t have a place to live, or even a place to stay.  I’m supposed to contact my boss when I get here, and he works here.  I don’t even have his phone number, just an email address.”  She held out her passport while she ranted all of this information off, really it sounded more like a plea for help at this point.  The short Marine let her in the gate, and soon she was telling the whole sob story to another Marine, even shorter than the first, inside the gatehouse.  Clearly this Marine could see that tears were on their way, and he reassured her, probably before he even knew what she was talking about.  He took her boss’s name, and while Jade waited and stubbornly refused to cry, the world’s shortest Marine kindly called Jade’s soon to be boss.  Who, it turns out, was the director of his entire division, not only for all of Europe, the US mission to the EU, and also Africa.  It also turned out that he just so happened to be in Venice, Italy that day.
As Jade soon learned, not only was it Memorial Day in the States, but it was a Bank Holiday in Belgium and indeed, the US Embassy was closed.  The cute little Marine, though, must have interjected on her behalf, because when he turned his gatehouse microphone back on to speak with Jade, after hanging up the phone with her new boss, he said “not to worry.  The Director of your department in is Italy, but he is calling his housesitter to come and get you.”
After showering copious, genuine thanks upon both of the short Marines, Jade was ushered back out of the Embassy gatehouse, where she sat on her giant wheeled suitcase for only a few minutes awaiting the arrival of the rescuing housesitter. 
Jan showed up quickly, and hopped out to meet Jade.  He was rather pudgy but very nice, and he worked up a bit a sweat while stuffing Jade’s luggage into his tiny car.  Clearly he had not planned on picking up someone with lots of luggage today, and it was really good of him to drop everything and race into town on a holiday to pick up some poor tourist.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Christiane Amanpour and Easy Company

In truth, it was six years before Jade and Ellen would again leave their home country in search of culture and adventure.  Domestic travels and carreer paths took precedence in those years, until Jade could no longer accept what she considered to be cultural stagnance.  By then she was in her second year of a demanding graduate school program, and working part time in her field as well.  Jade happened to attend a related international club meeting, where the faculty mentor described an internship position.  Instantly Jade knew that was her ticket, and she emailed the professor as soon as she got home from the evening meeting.  Over the next nine months, everything fell into place, and Jade found herself packing for a four month summer internship at the US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.
Naturally, Jade’s parents were very concerned with details; things like where Jade would live and how would she get around.  They also were extremely worried that she didn’t know anyone there and hadn’t studied French or Flemish.  But Jade could not be bothered with these pesky little particulars – she spoke Spanish and had a couple books on French.  She could learn it on the plane ride, she was sure.  And she knew where to go, even had arranged to housesit for an American family living off base in the city for 5 weeks of her stay.  Everything would work out fine, and honestly, Jade could not for the life of her figure out what all the stress her parents seemed to feel was about.  After all, it was Europe, not some third world country.  And she would be working at the American Embassy.  It wasn’t like she was Christiane Amanpour reporting live from the front lines of a remote warzone.
And so, with a moment or two’s hesitation as she boarded the plane, Jade was off.  On her domestic connection, she plugged in her French CD and pulled out the guide.  By the time she reached the international wing in Dulles after checking on her luggage, Jade still had four hours before her next departure.  So she settled herself into a moderately comfy chair at the gate and cozied up to the used French English Dictionary she had purchased.  She was happily reading away, when an old man sitting next to her broke into her reverie.
“I can teach you all the French you need to know,” he said.  Now, generally speaking, Jade had a bit of a soft spot for old men that reminded her of her grandfather.  But even more innate to Jade was her preference not to be bothered.  Especially when very obviously reading.  She tried to blatantly ignore the man, but he was a persistent old coot, and just kept on talking to her.  As she reluctantly emerged from her self imposed isolation, Jade noticed that the man was wearing one of those old army caps, the ones that list whatever division he had been in.  She also began to realize, as the elderly man spoke very Americanized French to her, that he was travelling with his son and two grandsons.  Now, astute though Jade was, she rarely had time to spare on others, particularly people she either didn’t know or didn’t care about, so at the time she paid very little attention to these details.  But her interest was instantly piqued when the older gentleman casually stated, “I haven’t spoken French since I was in France sixty years ago.”
“Sixty years ago was 1944, right before D-Day.” Jade quickly replied, rather dryly.  She rather fancied the old guy full of it, but he didn’t seem to take offense.
“That’s right.  I arrived in France on June 6th, 1944.”  He stated, somewhat quietly.
“Do you mean to tell me you took one of the beaches?”  Jade was now bordering incredulous.
“Omaha,” he said, and that was all the proof she needed.  “You seem to know a bit about it,” he added, almost as a question.
Jade was quieter, respectful, when she answered.  “Not as much as I would like, only some of the dates and I really like Band of Brothers, you know that miniseries that chronicles the missions of Easy Company.”
“You know Easy Company? “ he sounded somewhat impressed.  “I fought with Easy Company under Patton’s command at Bastogne.” 
“You took Omaha on D-Day and you fought in the Battle of the Bulge?”  Jade could no longer mask the awe in her voice.
“That’s right.” The old man said.  “Not many people your age know much about World War II.”
“Well,” Jade had some difficulty describing her feeling about it, “it seems to me that that was the era when America stepped up, to do what had to be done, because it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do.  We had our own problems then, but so many men went to war, because they had to, and I happen to think they saved the world.  I truly have the utmost respect for their sacrifice, and I think of it as the Golden Age of our country.  My grandfather got really sick in basic, and was in a hospital bed for most of the war, but he has that same backbone.  That sense of doing what’s necessary.  He’s a really good man, and I know that World War II is part of that.  It’s part of that entire generation.  Even my grandmother, his wife, had to give up going to college to work in one of the factories.  She told me about it once, she said that was what we had to do.”
They chatted a bit more, and then the old man’s family required his attention again, and Jade went back to her French book.  Only several days later would she understand why the men were travelling together.  On the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, France awarded 99 American veterans the French Medal of Honor – their highest honor.  All of the veterans were survivors of D-Day.  The old man had been one of them, and there to see him walk across that stage and accept his Medal of Honor were his son and his grandsons.  Jade understood, on some level, what this man’s sacrifice meant to her country and to France, and she hoped that his grandsons were as proud of him and as in awe of his service as she would ever remain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You know you want more...

The flight to Heathrow was a red eye, and after take-off dinner was served.  Before cabin lights out, complimentary drinks were brought around, and Jade ordered a glass of wine.  Before Ellen could raise an eyebrow, Jade cut her off, “I’m old enough to drink in international waters and in Ireland, Mom, and this is a Pub Tour.”  And Jade was surprised when Ellen ordered a glass of wine, too.  White Zinfandel – a wine Jade could never understand.  It was all the negative points of wine without any of the positives, like good flavor.  But every woman deserves freedom from judgment in her nightcap selection, and Jade gave Ellen her airline blanket before turning out her reading light.  Ellen was chronically cold, comical since they lived in the desert.
As they drifted off dreaming of their ensuing escapades, the pilot came on the loudspeaker.  “Folks, I have some news,“ he said in a rather serious tone. “There is no danger at this time.” Instantly all passengers were wide awake; this was not a phrase one wanted to hear while airborne.  “We have had a fire on board.  It’s bad to have a fire on a plane, especially when you are flying over the middle of the Atlantic, people.”   Ellen’s face was barely hiding her panic.  “Someone smoked in the lavatory, and brilliantly, instead of putting out the cigarette, they threw it in the lavatory waste bin.  Smoking on a flight is illegal, folks, and tampering with an airplane smoke detector is a punishable offense.  Luckily for us all, another passenger was waiting to use the same lavatory and not only identified the fire and alerted the airplane staff to safely extinguish the fire; but also identified the smoker.  This person will be escorted off the airplane upon our arrival in London and punished to the fullest extent of the law.  Thank you for your time, and again, I want to reiterate that there is no current danger aboard this aircraft.”
Ellen was by this time gripping Jade’s forearm in a grasp beyond firm.
“Jade, this is what happened to the TWA flight, I know it.  Remember that flight?  They took off from New York City and just fell out of the sky into the black ocean.  The investigators pulled the wreckage up from the sea, even those black boxes or whatever it is that tells you why the plane went down, and they still never figured it out.  This is what happened to those people – don’t you think?  I mean, it really could be.” 
The attention chimes came on above Jade and Ellen, and the cabin lights came up, too.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are pleased to offer an additional complimentary beverage service during this transatlantic flight- please have your order ready when we reach your seat,” purred the head stewardess, in an obvious effort to subdue the nerves already on edge throughout the plane.
Ellen went rapidly raving on with her revelation, almost as a conspiracy theory subscriber would, but Jade shrugged her off.  “Mom, seriously, the fire’s out and we’re already stuck on this flight anyway, so there’s no point worrying about it.  Just go to sleep and when you wake up we’ll be in London.  Who could ask for more than that?  Everything will be fine, I promise.”  Jade thought to herself that she might have even managed to sound legitimate in her endeavor. 
Jade nodded off to snooze in her coach window seat, a commendation to her age, while Ellen continued to fret about the on board fire.  At some point during the overnight flight, Ellen must have drifted off, because when Jade awoke to the sun rising slowing over the ocean, Ellen was snoring in a slack jawed, un-ladylike fashion. 
Jade watched the red orb, mirrored in the water beneath her, in a sphere of mauve and gold.  As she would grow accustomed to, Jade found her thoughts wandering to all corners of the impossible, the infinite.  She would learn that when traveling, anything became attainable, and opportunities abounded all around her, even if only in her imagination.  There was nothing like an airplane flight to expand one’s mental horizons.  Some people took drugs to get this high, but Jade realized the travel bug was just as freeing, and much healthier for the price.  Jade thought of her grandmother, whose passing had made this trip possible, and of her own future.  Jade’s grandmother, Evelyn, had told her once that she had wished to go to college but hadn’t been able to because of World War II.  And here Jade was, on vacay from college at the very school where her grandfather had worked as a Finance VP after his service in the war.
It was a different era, and Jade felt compelled to prove her worth, even though the effort was, shall we say, somewhat needless.  Jade was hard headed in an independent way, the kind of woman who never anticipated to marry, planned to support herself, and had no experience against a glass ceiling.  She considered a man’s world a thing of the past, while roadblocks were merely speedbumps.
As the sun assumed it’s more normal assignation with the horizon, the flight attendants subtly began clanging dishes in preparation for breakfast service in coach.  Ellen awoke, mumbled her appreciation for the late stage sunrise, and adjusted the recline of her plane seat.  Breakfast service was unremarkable, and the pilot soon announced descent toward London. 
Ellen and Julie both thought of the new world that awaited them, cute accents and tea service; neither could fully fathom all that another culture had to offer.  Not that the ladies hadn’t experienced culture outside their comfort zone, after all border town Mexico was only 60 miles from home, and during years of safety offered the allure of tourism and bargain shopping.  Provided one parked on the correct side of the Dennis De Concini Border Gate.
The ladies were coach class for this flight, and so they missed the arrest of the anonymous lavatory smoker as he deplaned.  But by the time they’d climbed out of the cramped coach seats and gathered their carry-ons, both girls were excitedly interrupting one another with vacation fantasies.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Trying something different...

You know how beloved Charles Dickens is, right?
Well, did you know he wrote for serials?  Which means he was paid by the word.  Makes so much more sense now, doesn't it?
So I am going to try something new, in hopes of not only increasing my cute little blog's readership, but also to get out some of the original content of my book, Two Fat Girls on a Volcano (preceding the blog, mind you).  And that something new? Serial blog posts!  So please please stay tuned, and don't forget how much I love feedback...

This is the beginning of my and Mom's travel adventure.  It is written in third person and the names are changed, to protect the innocent.  I hope you find it as funny as I do.

Bags packed, with an escort to the airport from loyal husband and father, two anxious girls stood in front of the ticket counter three months later. 
“Checked for first class domestic, coach to Heathrow?” the well accoutered flight attendant asked Ellen.
“What, first class? Um, no.” Ellen was immediately flustered.  Jade looked over her shoulder to see her father trying and failing to hold back a smirk.  In fact, at this point he was practically chortling. 
“Mom, I think Dad may have upgraded us.”
“What are you talking about, honey?”  Ellen asked, turning first to her daughter, and then glancing at her husband.  “Did you?” she asked him.
“Yeah, well I have all those frequent flyer miles, and I thought you girls would like first class,” he said, grinning.  He clearly was quite pleased with his surprise.
And so were the girls! Their first foray into international jet setting was getting better by the minute.  What surprise would they encounter next?  Neither of them could wait to find out.  They quickly hugged their goodbyes and headed for the departure gate after checking the luggage.  Hopes high and excitement running through their veins, Jade and Ellen boarded the flight to Dulles, where they’d connect for Heathrow.  Enjoying the spacious luxury of first class was something these travelers could get used to, and each settled into quietude, pondering the upcoming vacation and its possibilities. 
The flight landed uneventfully in DC, and Jade and Ellen made their way to the connecting flight.  Ellen was nervous, she was never the one in charge when traveling, but felt the duty should fall to her.  Jade was not nervous; cocky may have been a more accurate description.  She was quite confident in her ability to find the next gate and get to it and she saw no reason why Ellen shouldn’t be able to keep up.  Which Ellen did, well even, despite the worry written on her face and lacing her words.  The girls even had time to powder their noses and relax a little at the gate before boarding began.  So Jade stuck her nose back into her novel, and looked up only when the gate agent started to call boarding.
But Ellen was nowhere in sight.  Not unusual, Ellen was often on a bathroom break.  But this seemed a long time to be in the restroom, so Jade headed in after her to smoke Ellen out.  She wasn’t in the ladies room.  Jade’s mind raced a bit, where could her mother have wandered off to now?
After 10 minutes and still no Ellen, Jade started to worry they would miss the flight.  The plane was boarding now.  She went up to the desk and asked the airline representative if she had any idea where Ellen could be.
“Oh yes,” replied the gate agent.  “She went to the baggage claim.”
“What?! Why?” Jade’s intense personality could easily have been mistaken at this point as incredulity. 
“Well, there was a problem with your luggage, it wasn’t checked through to your final destination, so she had to go to the bag claim and then recheck it to London.  Hopefully she’ll be back in time to make the flight and have gotten the bags checked.”  The airline rep had this plastic, sort of insincere polite expression, probably in an effort to placate Jade.
“Which way is the baggage claim?” Jade was rushing now, no time for pleasantries. “How long before the gate closes?”
“It’s down that hallway of flags, you can’t miss it.  The gate closes in another 10 minutes.  Good luck!”
Good luck? It’s not luck if it’s in someone’s control, which closing the gate most obviously was – in that Stepford wife of a gate agent’s control, to be precise.  Jade used her frustration at the situation to propel her down the hall of flags; she was a girl on a mission.  She was bound and determined to find her mother, their bags, get them checked, and make it back to the gate.  Her sheer will was impressive, and her facial expression cleared the foot traffic out from in front of her.  Until, at the end of the hallway, she found her mother.  Ellen was shuffling along hurriedly, whispering to herself as she commonly did.  In fact the girls were each so much in their own world that they almost ran into each other.
Jade grilled Ellen if she’d accomplished the goal before asking, “why didn’t you come get me, I could have helped?” It was half question, half accusation.
“I thought I’d be able to do it, and I didn’t realize how tight the time was,” Ellen answered, as Jade herded her toward the departure gate as fast as humanly possible.
“We only have like three minutes to board, Mom, we have to hurry!”  Luckily, Ellen was very accustomed to Jade’s high strung nature, and was only mildly annoyed.  After a pause from conversation, while still speed walking toward their gate Jade remembered to say, “hey, thanks for doing that.  It would have sucked to get to London and have no luggage.”  After all, Jade wasn’t truly selfish, she was just disinterested in a lot of things.  But she also had little desire to be the center of attention, and was by no means vapid.
“No problem, hon, I hope we make it.  Do you think we will?” Ellen answered, half panting.
As Jade and Ellen arrived at the gate and promptly boarded the plane, they breathed sighs of relief while settling into their coach seats.  Note:  first class always seems like a good thing, but remember to reserve an upgrade for the final flight of the day; going from first class to coach is a great way to dampen your spirits.