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A Cold Start to the New Year

January 10, 2009

Written January 11

Dear Friends and Families,


Germany has a peculiar New Year's tradition: watching a slapstick British television sketch called "Dinner for One" about an elderly Englishwoman and her butler. Reportedly, half the country watches the program at least once during the New Year's celebration. Wikipedia has a nice summary, part of which I've repeated below, including the punch line. Many Germans know the English language quite well but all Germans know at least a few words. Leading among those universal words, is the phrase "The same procedure as every year".

So, Marianne and I started the New Year with the same procedure as every year: at home, struggling to stay awake until midnight, making the same resolutions about weight, exercise, and improving our language skills. We added an item about doing a better job of saving money and paying attention to where retirements savings are invested, thanks to the 2008 collapse of the world economy as we know it. While last year threatens to have pushed us into The Great Depression II, we still face the new year with hope for health, weight, language, and finances. The same procedure as every year.

I recommend celebrating New Year's in our little valley. From our new loft we could look out the windows and see fireworks up and down the valley and in all the neighborhoods around the palace ground walls of Pommersfelden. It was a very impressive show and, since we could stay inside, we didn't have to suffer the cold or risk injury from all this amateur pyromania.

Since then, work has restarted and our life is getting back to normal. We have had a bit of snow and the weather turned bitterly cold, so our snow is staying. Saturday morning, we decided to get up very early for a walk and a photo shoot of the cold winter dawn. It was minus 22 Celsius, that is minus 8 for our North American fans and just plain cold. Our fingers froze and the pictures were not that special, although we are including them below since we went to so much trouble.

As for plans for the rest of 2009, we look forward to both the known and the unknown. We know our days of rebuilding old German buildings is over. We trust that Gabby will bring a new and healthy baby girl into the family in March. I'm fairly sure I will have another year of real work and, most likely, a couple more after that. Marianne will focus on art in the new atelier, the new grand-daughter in California, gossiping with neighbors (in Frankish!), and the same resolutions as last year.

We would like to see more of family and friends in 2009 than we could manage in 2008. We hope to make it to America more often this year, mostly to catch up on grand kids and regular kids. I'm hoping my work provides me with a few of those trips and we'll certainly use up any left-over frequent flyer miles for Marianne. Our guest house is booked for only a few days so far in 2009, but we are encouraging everyone we talk to. Where else can you get a European vacation resort stay for free?

In any event, stay in touch with phone, email, and even that old-fashioned paper communication.

Take care and stay warm.


John and Marianne

A Cold Photo Walk

While we left the house before dawn, there was a bright moon for light -- not to mention the obnoxious street light at the left corner of our house. Our path to the fields (and the bakery) took us through the grounds of the neighbor palace.

Out in the fields, the sunrise gave us just a hint of a pink glow. Some days, this is spectacular, but I think our cameras chased away the color. The frost on the trees and the wind blown snow in the fields look as cold as, in fact, it was.

Taking photos at -22C (-8F) was a crazy way to spend a morning. The best part was returning to the Allee Cafe, otherwise known as Burkard's Bakery.


Dinner for One

(From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinner_for_One )

The sketch presents the 90th birthday of elderly upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a dinner every year for her close friends Mr. Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider to celebrate the occasion. (Note that the plot has nothing to do with New Year's Eve, as is often incorrectly stated. There is a "Happy new year" toast, but this is purely a reference to Miss Sophie's anniversary.) The problem is that, given Miss Sophie's considerable age, she has outlived all of her friends, and so her equally aged butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. Miss Sophie decides on appropriate drinks to accompany the menu of the evening, consisting of Mulligatawny soup (Miss Sophie orders sherry) , North Sea haddock (with white wine), chicken (with champagne), and fruit for dessert (with port) served by James, and so he finds himself raising (and emptying) his glass four times per course. That takes its toll, increasingly noticeable in James' growing difficulty in pouring the drinks, telling wine glasses from vases of flowers, and refraining from bursting into song. Even before the alcohol begins to exert its influence, he has trouble coping with a tiger skin sitting on the floor between the dinner table and the buffet.

The crucial exchange during every course is:
James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

After the dinner, Miss Sophie indicates to a very drunk James that she wishes to retire to bed, to which James responds:
James: By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie, delightedly: The same procedure as every year, James!
James: Well, I'll do my very best!

From Google: Video (German introduction, just for full flavor. The main act is, of course, in Englsh.)



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