ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here

Home Planet

Posts tagged: Germany

Travel: The Great War Centennial 1914-1918: In Flanders Fields

    When I was 12 years old, my family moved into a rambling Craftsman-style bungalow. The house had been built in the early-to-mid 1920s with all the signature details of the era including beautiful wainscoting, built-in bookcases and, in two rooms,  window seats that ran the length of one wall. I spent many hours on those window seats, my forehead pressed against the glass, looking over the rooftops of the neighborhood behind us. I did a lot of reading on that cushioned seat and a lot of daydreaming. 

    

    One day, looking for a place to hide in a neighborhood game of Hide and Seek, I opened the top of one of the window seats, but there was already something in it. I pulled out a fabric-wrapped bundle that held a pair of stiff canvas objects I couldn’t identify and what looked like some kind of mask. I showed them to my grandfather, my source for the answer to all mysteries.

  

     “Those are Doughboy gaiters and a gas mask,” he told me, turning them over in his hands.

    

    I’d never heard of a gaiter and the only doughboy I knew anything about advertised canned biscuits. The mask was familiar, but only from movies and books. I got a quick history lesson about the First World War, the nickname for American soldiers at the time, the rough wool uniforms, legs protected by the gaiters—or leggings—that strapped and laced around a man’s calves and the gas attacks that sent soldiers scrambling, often too late, for their protective masks.

    

    He told me I had ancestors who’d fought in the Great War, pulled out the Encyclopedia and left me to my research.

    

    That was the start of an interest that has lasted a lifetime. The war that was to end all wars never left my mind for long after that, drawing me to books and songs and even fashions of the era. Some time in my early 20s, digging through a box of junk at a flea market, I came across a U.S. Victory Medal. Such medals were sent to every surviving soldier in 1921 to mark his service. It’s in my jewelry box now.

  

     On the back of the medal are the words, “The War of Civilization.” If only it had been. If that war, one of the most brutal and destructive in history, had been the last, my grandfather would not have spent years in the South Pacific during the Second World War. My father would not have gone to Korea and Vietnam. 

     

    As it was, a generation was decimated, lost to not only the war, but the collateral damage of the Spanish Influenza that rode its coattails around the world. By the end, 16 million were dead and the landscape of parts of Europe was forever changed.

    

    When the phrase “The Greatest Generation” became popular, I bit my tongue. It seemed to me the “greatest” generation was the that fought and survived that First World War. Many returned to simply pick up and go on. Others were broken completely, suffering what was called “shell shock.” That generation endured the Great War, the Great Depression and then, the ultimate cruelty, was either called to fight again again or, worse, send their sons to another unthinkable world war.

  

     I finally made it to Belgium in 2012 and one of the stops on my itinerary was a tour of Flanders Fields, the site of so much of the horror of the Western Front. I stepped into preserved bunkers and if they chilled me on a warm spring day, I could only imagine how horrible, how dark and damp and cold, they must have been in the war, surrounded by a sea of mud, echoing the deafening barrage of shells and gunfire, filed with the sounds of the injured and dying.

 

    At the at the Flanders Fields American Cemetery, I walked among the 368 white marble crosses reading the names, birth dates and home states—from Alabama to Washington—of the men that had fallen in the last battles before the armistice was signed in November, 1918.

  

     I sat in what had been the “Gold Star Mothers” room, a place for visiting mothers who had lost sons and buried them in Flanders.

    

    At the German Cemetery, a darker, more somber place, I read more names, some of them 16-year-old boys who’d been encouraged by their teachers to join up and experience what was going to be a quick rout. Startled, I saw the same name as my husband’s grandfather, a man whose family immigrated from Germany to the United States in the years before the war. It wasn’t him but it might have been a relative. No one seems to know.

  

     I stood at the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres) surrounded by the names of more than 50,000 men who have no known grave. I listened as the bugler played and a wreath was laid, participating in a ceremony that has been held each evening since 1927, except during the years of German occupation in the next world war. 

    

    Now, in 2014, we’ve reached the century mark. What began with the murder of an Archduke (and his wife, although no one ever seems to mention it) and ended with the Treaty of Versailles and a shattered world, is being remembered. 

    

    If you’ve ever thought of going to Europe, or wanted to go back, this anniversary is a good time to do it. Follow the branches of your family tree. Chances are, before the great generation that went to the Second World War, you had an ancestor in the First.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

    

Travel: Vancouver Christmas Market

   December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.

 

    As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure. 

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle

    Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport. 

  

    I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.

 

Riding the Rails

    I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.      

 

   Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead.     We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m. 

 

   I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)

 

The Vancouver Christmas Market

    I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market. 

  

    School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)

 

 

The takeaway

   My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.

 

    I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine.  There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time. 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Travel: Contemporary Art and Cultural History at Leipzig’s Spinnerei

    First there were mill workers, the men and women (in later years predominantly women) who worked the machines that made up one of the largest cotton mills in Europe. For more than 100 years, through boom and bust, through war and peace, through the post-WWII dissection of Germany, the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, an industrial city unto itself, operated in Leipzig, Germany.

    Then in the 1990s, when the mill closed, the mill-workers moved out and artists, always looking for the luxury of great space without great expense, quickly moved in.  

 

    The Spinnerie is now the creative workplace and refuge of hundreds of artists and creatives. The vast workrooms with wide multi-paned windows have become studios and galleries and storefronts. A popular cafe located just inside the entrance attracts people-watchers who spill out to tables and chairs when the weather is nice. There’s a place to buy art supplies and a coffee shop. You can stop by the office to arrange a guided tour, buy a T-shirt or pick up a book (available in English) about the history and contemporary focus of the 125-year-old historic site.

 

    The size and scope of the industrial complex of old brick mill buildings, storerooms, and alleyways—more than 20 buildings encompassing 90,000 square meters—is almost overwhelming. Wherever you look in the sprawling compound your eye is caught by something interesting. 

 

    Neo Rauch, the most well-known artist of the New Leipzig School was one of the first to occupy a space at the Spinnerei.  In a second-story studio, porcelainist Claudia Biehne creates ethereal and otherworldly pieces that become lamps and bowls and sculptures.  To stand in her showroom is like stepping into an eggshell. The light is soft and transfused through the pieces she displays by the big windows.

 

    There are elements of the Spinnerei that put places like New York City and Berlin to shame: The sheer size of the complex, for one thing. In larger, more densely-populated areas, that kind of room to grow and create is unheard of, and there’s the Spinnerei’s proximity to affordable and vibrant Leipzig. There is an energy and intense focus that belies the age and crumbling facade of the structures in the old mill city. 

 

    The art world is paying attention to what is happening at Leipzig’s Spinnerei. It is a model for what you can do with history, and how you can use the past to create the future. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Starting the New Year with Edible Souvenirs

We were fortunate again this year, the whole family was together for Christmas. We gathered, exchanged gifts, caught up on one another’s lives and enjoyed one another’s company. And we ate. We ate a lot.

When we weren’t sitting down to our traditional Christmas dinner, we were snacking on things I’d gathered on my travels and brought home to share with my family. That’s come to be one of my travel traditions and now wherever I go I spend time looking for goodies to bring home with me.

This year, while playing board games or working on a jigsaw puzzle we opened a can of Virginia peanuts that traveled back from Roanoke tucked into a corner of my suitcase.

We made pots of good Door County Coffee & Tea Company coffee and nibbled peanut brittle from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.

I passed around a can of delicate and delicious Clear River pecan pralines I bought in Fredericksburg, Texas and hand-carried home. And we cracked pecans I gathered from where they’d fallen from the trees around the same city.

I spread tart cherry jam from, also from Door County, Wisconsin, on our toast at breakfast. In the afternoon I sliced a block of Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to go with the bottle of crisp white wine I brought back from Rhine River valley in Germany.

One night I made a big pot of chili and seasoned it with heritage chili pepper powder I bought at the Chili Pepper Institute in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I made a batch of brownies with brownie mix spiced with the same chilis.

We warmed up with mugs of hot buttered rum, savoring the bottle of Koloa rum I picked up in Kauai and saved especially for this holiday season.

This is the time of my life when I can travel freely and I don’t take it for granted because I know that could change at any time. My children are mostly grown and my work takes me around the world. I can’t always take them with me, but I can bring the world back to the ones I love and share it with them one delicious bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Old World Christmas at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


   When Christmas comes to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is wrapped in a big white tent and filled with music, food, handmade crafts and the ancient tradition of German Advent markets.

   Osthoff Resort General Manager Lola Roeh spent time in Nuremberg, Germany before returning to Wisconsin and coming to lead the Osthoff. Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt left an indelible mark on her imagination and she was determined to bring the tradition to the resort. Fifteen years ago she did just that and now the Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort has grown to be an important part of the region’s holiday season, catering to those who return each year to add to a collection or simply savor the tastes of an authentic German Christmas by eating schnitzel and red cabbage or sipping Glühwein.

   Some vendors, including the sausage maker who flies in each year to sell authentic Nuremberg sausages—made with his secret recipe— have been with the market since the beginning.

   While shoppers move from booth to booth, Father Christmas parts the crowd, calling out Christmas greetings. Seasonal music fills the big heated tent.

   I had only just walked in when I spotted a booth filled with beautiful handmade paper mache Santa and Father Christmas figures. Each exquisite piece was made in authentic vintage German molds, hand painted and decorated with glass glitter or tiny glass beads. I spent almost half an hour looking at each one, trying to decide which would come home with me. Finally, I chose a petite Father Christmas, ornamented with glass beads and holding a tiny Christmas tree. He was wrapped and packed for the trip home and the little figure was the first decoration I put out when I returned.

   Elkhart Lake is beautiful any time of year but the elegant white structures of the surrounding resorts, including the crown jewel, the big, rambling, historic Osthoff Resort, shine brightest in winter. The summer crowds are gone and the small town becomes a place to escape the hectic pace of the holiday while celebrating the best of the season.


More information:
The Osthoff Resort

Old World Christmas Market


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and  can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: The Beauty of Christmas in Germany

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

 

   One night, on my first trip to Germany during the month of December, hungry and still a little jetlagged from the flight, I walked into a tiny restaurant in a residential district near the center of Munich. I opened the door and then, dazzled by what I saw, stopped to take it all in.  
    

   A forest of dozens of small, elaborately decorated Christmas trees were hanging upside down from the ceiling of the room. I’d never seen anything like it before. Beautifully-wrapped packages of all sizes were stacked on windowsills, strung like ornaments on garlands of ribbon and greenery, and piled into corners. Evergreen boughs, woven with tiny white lights that glowed in the fresh snowfall outdoors and were reflected in the mirror over the bar, trimmed every door and window. 
    

   The intimate neighborhood eatery was filled with locals enjoying a big plate of schnitzel or wurst and crowded with friends who’d stopped by for an after-work drink. I felt as though I’d walked into a scene from an ornate Victorian picture-book, but I quickly realized the over-the-top decor was no show for tourists. It was just a perfectly fine example of the way Germany dresses up for the holiday season.
   

    Anyone who has ever spent time at one of Germany’s Advent or  Christkindlmarkts can relate. It’s the same kind of over-the-top feeling. Strolling down the rows of wood huts, most strung with white lights and wrapped in garland and decorations, it’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
   

    Most markets are held in the traditional market square or city center. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, the air is filled with the sweet and spicy scents of sausages, pastries, potato pancakes and warm candied almonds and other nuts. Shoppers crowd around booths buying gifts of handmade wood toys, knitted items, ornamental gingerbread and hand-carved wood figures for the family creche. And the Glühwein stands are the most popular by far, with friends gathering to enjoy a mug of the hot, spiced and fortified wine that is so much a part of Germany’s holiday season.
   

    Each market has a distinctive feel. The walled city of Nuremberg is famous for its red and white striped market canopies. The Munich “manger” market is where families come each year to select hand-carved pieces for the creche displayed every Christmas season. And the sprawling, busy, Frankfurt market stretches from the old city center to the river, highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of the vibrant city. The beautiful market in Cologne is consistantly voted one of the most popular.
    

   If you have the time and want to explore Germany at a more leisurely pace, consider booking a Rhine River cruise.  With frequent stops at villages between Frankfurt, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, a December river cruise down the Rhine River gives you a trouble-free way to enjoy the scenery as you cruise past ancient castles, beautiful and productive vineyards, old fortifications and picturesque villages. Each day brings a new opportunity to explore holiday markets in towns along the river, each with its own flavor and vibe, without the crush of peak-season tourists. Small-ship cruising combines the best of cruising—fine dining, comfortable staterooms and leisurely travel—but most river cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers so one never feels lost in the crowd.
    

   No place is as beautiful as Germany this time of year. Every year when I hang the wreaths and decorate the tree I think back to that small but beautifully and exhuberantly decorated restaurant on a quiet street in a very busy city. And I'm always inspired to do just a bit more.

    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

    
  

We have asparagus season. Germany has Spargelzeit.

   (Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

   Just after the morning’s first cup of coffee, I pedaled my bicycle to the organic market near my house. I’d been drawn by the sign advertising fresh local asparagus and I came home with bundles of the tender green vegetable in the wicker basket on the front of my bike.  That night, grilled in butter and olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, it was as delicious as I’d expected. The quintessential taste of spring.

   Halfway around the world, in Germany, I know another woman was probably doing the same thing. Only her bicycle basket would be filled with the pale, white asparagus. It would be more delicately flavored, grown in tall mounds of earth, sheltered from the sun until harvest.

   From April to late June, Germans are mad for asparagus. Eaten only in season, the tender, pale, stalks set off a frenzy of dining and celebrating. We have asparagus season. They have Spargelzeit. Once the delicacy of kings, and regarded as a medicinal luxury in the Middle Ages, the “edible Ivory” stalks are brought out like treasure. Harvested, displayed and consumed with adoration.

   Weekly markets—usually held in the historic squares of the old cities—are sprinkled with stalls featuring rows of  white asparagus bundles paired with other early fruits and vegetables like radishes or strawberries. The effect is as colorful and appealing as any still-life composed by an artist.

   Restaurants create special menus dedicated to asparagus, each trying to outdo the other. It is blended into cocktails, pickled, chopped into salads, draped across main courses and even sweetened and turned into dessert.  One might have it in the morning’s omelet, lunchtime salad and again at the evening meal. With a glass of German wine, of course. There is no moderation.

   Like the country’s exuberant Christmas decorations, Asparagus is the star of spring. There are asparagus festivals, complete with Kings and Queens and districts organize asparagus trails and tours similar to the well-traveled wine routes that meander through the Rhine valley.  The Lower Saxony region produces a fifth of all the asparagus Germany consumes each season and in the Baden fields devotees, eager for the freshest bites, can pitch in and join the harvest.

   Here, in my part of the world, the sign is back. A new harvest of local Northwest asparagus is on display at the market so I’ll hop back on my bike and fill the basket again. I’ll serve it up and savor each bite. But I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Sure, we have asparagus season. But Germany? Well, they get Spargelzeit.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Made in America, Based in Berlin




    It’s always a bit of a jolt when we see ourselves through another’s lens. Suddenly things we’d never noticed stand out.
    I was in Berlin recently. What has happened there since the wall fell is interesting. At the  time of the reunification West Berlin was the place to be. East Berlin, not so much.
    As one young man I met told me, “I used to walk to the wall and look across to the East and ask. “Who lives in that gray city?”
    Obviously, a great many people lived there. But freedom was on the other side. And when the wall fell they poured out and into West Berlin and across the country. But now, 25 years later, the pendulum has swung the other way. What used to be East Berlin is now hip and edgy. Artists flock there and that movement has changed more than the landscape.
    While exploring the Mitte area of former East Berlin, I stopped to take in a temporary contemporary art exhibition in Monbijoupark.
    “Based in Berlin” filled an abandoned atelier. Inside, in empty rooms, a range of art installations were set up. All were edgy, avant-garde, but one caught my eye immediately

    In the first-floor hallway a wide flat-screen television was mounted on the wall. On the screen was a montage of video clips of well-known performers.  In the official description on the Based in Berlin website, Asaf Koriat’s work “The Brave” is described as “a single channel split-screen video, which simultaneously shows nine TV recordings of celebrities (Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Cher), each singing the American national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ at the opening of the Super Bowl.”
    It was not what you would expect to see and hear in a German park.
    Individually, the voices were easy to listen to. Some even appealing - depending on which artists you like and which you don’t. But superimposed on one another, the combined voices were discordant. Jarring. Unpleasant.

    While I stood there, a group of young German women stopped in front of the screen.  I stole an occasional glance at them. Finally, one shook her head.
    “Why are they all screaming? “ she asked the others. They all shrugged and shook their heads. The girls moved on but I stayed and watched the videio all the way through again. She had a point.
    Koriat, who studied in New York, describes the installation this way in his official release: “This dissonant national anthem presents both a powerful critique and a celebration of mass culture. The singers embody the democratic system’s complexity. They at the same time propagate the myth of a collective national identity and the ceaseless insistence on the idea of individuality—both pillars of the “American Dream.” The video’s presentation on a large flat-screen TV underscores the function of media events as the form in which a nation exists and perceives itself as a united entity.”

    Like any work of art should, Koriat’s “The Brave” stayed with me even after I flew home. And, at this time of year, when Sousa marches, The Star-Spangled Banner and even Lee Greenwood singing “Proud to be an American” accompany annual fireworks extravaganzas, he left me with something to think about.  As Americans, we’re free to make a little noise when we feel like it. But it never hurts to stop and think about the way we might sound to the rest of the world.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 

The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.


I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The Upside of Jet Lag

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

 

    The upside of jet lag, and I suppose it takes a certain kind of optimism to even search for an upside, is that you sometimes find yourself awake and alone deep in the night. Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. For days after a trip my internal clock is upended. While everyone else is tucked in and sound asleep, I am a ghost. I tiptoe through the house making tea and toast. With the muffled whine of jet engines still ringing in my ears and a stuffy head thanks to the combined coughs and colds of hundreds of passengers packed into a 10-hour flight, I wrap myself in blankets and sit on the chaise lounge by the window in my living room with wool socks on my feet and a box of tissues by my side. I am miserable.
    

    But, I have discovered, there is a gift. When you are awake - half-awake as the case may be - in the dark and quiet world, you are free to think. Wrapped in warm blankets watching the snow fall on the other side of the glass, a comforting mug of hot tea in your hands, you can plan, imagine and dream. Who cares if you have to struggle to remember dates and names? If you’re too sluggish to do more than fall back against the pillows. Under the influence of too much travel and too little sleep, one is free to play with memory and ambition like a puzzle. The pieces can be arranged in whatever way suits you best.    
    

    Back from a December trip to Germany, cruising down the Rhine River past castles and villages and light-studded Advent markets; after navigating snowstorms, airport closures, cancelled flights and last-minute schedule changes, arriving just in time for Christmas with my family, I spent the last days of the year in just that condition. Exhausted, congested, confused and restless at night and too sleepy to function well by day, I cocooned in thick blankets. I looked back over the previous months. I measured my progress against the plans I’d made. I was too tired to run from my mistakes so there, in the darkest hours of the night, I let them catch up with me. There was, as is usually the case, plenty to answer to.
    

    I looked at the year ahead. I lay there and thought about what I really want to achieve. Maybe it is my age, my place in life, but when I really considered it, I realized the list is surprisingly short. I want less now than I’ve ever wanted before. The important things still matter: good health and happiness for myself and my family, time to daydream and write, freedom to travel and explore. But I’m no longer inclined to tilt at windmills. Let them spin. I’ve learned to choose my battles.
    

    Although it didn’t feel that way at the time, those hours by the window, awake in a dark house illuminated by the moon shining down on a snowy world, were the best gift I received. I could see where I’ve been. And where I want to go. And, perhaps this is the most important thing of all, I made peace with where I am.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

  

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here