- It’s hard to find stores open evenings and Sundays, and getting last-minute shopping done on Saturday mornings is so stressful.
- The faith in authority, or in Ordnung: Germans will remain standing at a red pedestrian signal even at three AM when there’s no traffic. And you'll probably get yelled at if you try to cross against the light.
- They only talk to strangers to warn or to scold--for not sorting recyclables, for wasting photocopier toner by not using that L-shaped plastic thing around the edges of the original, for disobeying pedestrian traffic lights.
- They often seem to think they have penetrating insights into black-white relations in the U.S.
- They keep answering you in English, even if your German is just fine.
- They have a relaxed attitude to their bodies and all bodily functions. They go naked often and gladly: in the park, on the beach, in the sauna, everywhere.
- They even eat pizza with knife and fork.
- They regard their abrupt manner as an expression of sincerity; to Americans it can come off as pushy.
- The ubiquitous cigarette smoking is so outdated; the rampant smoke clouds stand in stark contrast to their otherwise pronounced environmental consciousness.
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales are way too frightening for children.
In honor of German-American Day – Oct. 6 – I’m posting my translation/paraphrase of selections from a list of 50 in the paper Die Zeit. Next week, I’ll reciprocate with German observations on American oddities. “No thin skin,” as a German instructor of mine, a nice and energetic Swiss lady in her 70s, used to say.
After a two-year re-construction project, the University of Virginia’s architectural centerpiece and Thomas Jefferson brainchild The Rotunda, reopens this weekend and will be open on regular schedule Monday, September 26. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of many things you can take in among the fall colors in Charlottesville.
I usually feature destinations outside the U.S., but as a UVA graduate, I couldn’t resist this one. In keeping with my musical theme, I’ll add that the Dave Matthew’s Band got its start here, and – shameless namedropping – I made the acquaintance of violinist Boyd Tinsley in my college days. I used to hang out at his fraternity, Sigma Nu, where he played in monthly coffee houses. I also once saw former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen play blues at a local club; after his gig, he swung by Sigma Nu to jam with some of the best musicians at the coffee house. On another night, I also played a short set with some TKE fraternity brothers, so I can boast of having played the same stage as Tinsley and Kaukonen.
On a visit two years ago, I also stumbled on to a Gypsy Jazz night at the downtown C & O Restaurant. It’s still going on every Tuesday from 10:30/11:00 until around 1 with the Olivarez Trio. Their music covers Jango Reinhardt, East European styles and much more. See samples of a live performance and a Hungarian medley below. Their website is http://rick-olivarez.squarespace.com/.
You might have noticed the Google Doodle two days ago was about Peruvian soprano and exotica artist Yma Sumac. Her genre, at least in its most popular Tiki form, was not the real deal when it came to the music of far-flung lands. And what I do, let’s be honest, is not genuine Gypsy music.
But I try to come as close as I can. And I’ve learned some of my material from actual Roma, just as I’ve learned Slovak music from singing in choirs in that country, and I even picked up a few from a budding folk artist who now, after earning a Ph.D. gives regular seminars (in dance) in Slovakia. Also when I was in grad school at Ohio State for Slavic languages, I sang in a group called Rusalka, which aspired to sing Russian folk music—but our leader always told the audience that, no matter how much we studied it, we always came up a little short. In short, as long as your emulation is sincere, you should always be proud to bring the music of different countries to a broader public.
And Yma Sumac had an amazing voice, over five octaves. I’m at about two and a half, Freddie Mercury made it to four and a half. Just listen to the clip of her most famous “Chuncho,” which displays the overall versatility – not just range – of her voice. Also, here’s Time’s take on Sumac.
This brief post is to restart things after August’s break and to let you know what I’ll be up to for the rest of the year. September will be mostly about journeys from years past. At the end of the month and beginning of October I’ll run two of my own translations: “What Strikes Americans about Germany” and “What Strikes Germans about America.” That’s in honor of German-American Day. November will have some reference to “Day of the Dead” and, again on a somber note, the centennial of the death of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph. December will be devoted to Advent/Christmas music from around Europe, including some videos of me performing the songs.
The pic is one I just found online. It’s me playing the headliner at the First Wednesday Open Mike Night at the Great Machipongo Clam Shack back in June 2015. You can find video of the performance here. Thanks to Bob Sellers for the photo, which I picked off the 1st Wednesday FB page!
Musical & Literary Wanderings of a Galloping Gypsy
Mark Eliot Nuckols is a travel writer from Silver Beach Virginia who is also a musician and teacher.