Saturday, August 21, 2010

Detroit: Visiting the Tigers

Once you've tried the one and only feather bowling, Detroit also offers less niche-y sports entertainment. Like baseball.
To the uninitiated European, this seems equally exotic (if more familiar from Hollywood and other pop culture references) - so you are more acquainted with the general concept, but once you find yourself at a live baseball game, you may still be surprised.
For the Germans, the overall purpose of the game may remind you a little of elementary school sports classes involving "Brennball" ('burn ball') - just with a bat, grown-ups, and bigger stadiums. And more complicated rules. And less noise.

If most live sports events you've seen so far were soccer-related, then the atmosphere at a large baseball match seems very strange: It is awfully quiet. In fact, there is a high risk that you will miss that the game has already started - but if you worry  that this might make you look like an impolite foreigner who doesn't appreciate this American sport sufficiently, fear not. I got the impression, observing my surroundings, that a large part of the spectators wasn't all that involved either. No chants, no shouting, no vicious threats to the referee. Silence, or private conversation, and a big focus on purchasing and consuming fast food.
Also, no insults aimed at players who don't move around enough, because frankly - baseball doesn't exactly seem a very active sport. I guess that may be one of the reason why it's so easy to get distracted: The field is large, but most players hardly move - usually, just one or two at a time, in the distance. (The others must get quite cold, just waiting for things to happen.) And if then, you fail to grasp the finer points of the game (you may have to grow up with it - I couldn't really follow all the ways of being 'out' in just one evening), it can get quite confusing. At a very leisurely pace.
However! I may not have understood exactly why, but the Detroit Tigers won in the end, and it was followed by an immense 10 minute fireworks show.
I just wouldn't recommend going to see a live game without friendly company (who know the rules). Added bonus: I can now say that I've been in downtown Detroit (and lived to tell the tale).

Other notable events:
It appears to be an acceptable Midwestern form of greeting a random foreigner in a baseball stadium with "Right. You're from Germany. Are you trying to stay here or are you gonna go back?" (I did not say the obvious - "Gee, of course I go back! You see, our car industry is still doing very well!" - but praised my hosts while still expressing excitement to return to home sweet home in a week. Equally true, more polite. Slightly less satisfying.)

Also: Downtown Detroit has a large number of Greek restaurants, and I am still trying to recall why I believe I remember that from somewhere - from Jeffrey Eugenides' 'Middlesex', maybe? We had lovely Greek food at Pegasus (I really should have taken a picture of their neon sign!). Special recommendation: Grilled halloumi cheese that the waiter sets on fire at your table, exclaiming "Opa!" in the process. It appears that they are required to express their Greek joy in that way for this dish, and it's a very popular starter. So you will hear a more or less excited "Opa!" every few seconds. Hehe. Fun times!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Detroit: Home of feather bowling

Feather bowlingWhile getting into the USA wasn't very pleasant, actually being there was great, starting in Detroit. Now, once I reached California, the standard reply to "I just got here from Detroit" seemed to be "But why would you go there?" or, a little more subtle, "Oh, do you have family there?" - California residents seem very fond of their state, and at the same time, Detroit does not exactly have a splendid reputation.
People from the Detroit area seem to agree - both on the filght there, and on the flight back, and from most people I spoke to while in the area, I didn't hear anything good about Detroit itself.
I don't actually know anything about the city (beyond watching a baseball match and eating at a Greek restaurant) and spent most of my time in a lovely suburb where the world seemed peaceful and green. Still, the repeated shock at my choice of pre-California destination made me feel strangely defensive of Detroit, and so I would like to declare that there is in fact one cool thing in Detroit that no other city in the USA can offer (if Wikipedia is to be believed): Feather Bowling.
It is said to be from Belgian, but the two Belgians I asked about it had never heard from it, and so it is well possible even that the Cadieux Café in Detroit is now the only place in the world that lets people play this amusing mix between bowling and boules. Basically, you form two teams, and each one tries to roll some small cheese-shaped wooden wheels as close to a feather as possible. (Who came up with this? Was Belgian beer involved in the creation of the rules? Did they first use real cheese? Were any birds harmed in the process? Nobody knows.)

So, in case life takes you to Michigan, try it. And spread the word that there actually are good things in Detroit.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Illegal alien, continued

Something I had not noticed while I noted down my first bit of fun with entering the US: 

So, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has teamed up with the manufacturers of expensive luggage to offer TSA locks - locks that will keep your suitcase shut to spontaneous access from those who have no business going through your things, yet accessible to the good people who protect the US borders from people with changing fingerprints or suspicious luggage. They have a key, and so they will not have to break the lock (or, if the lock is part of the suitcase, the whole suitcase) in order to check your belongings for anything they would not like to see in the United States of America.

Sounded good! So I paid a substantial amount of extra money to Rimowa to get a fancy suitcase that TSA could open.


Only that I was informed by a remarkably rude Delta employee that the US of A's border control is under no legislation whatsoever, and nobody can make them use those locks if they are not in the mood, and noone will give you back your money if they decide that they're up for a little destruction.

The result: My expensive luxury suitcase's TSA lock was ignored. They just broke the lock, and, for good measure, the suitcase zipper as well, for their routine check. 
"You were taking too long, Miss."
That's right: I was taking too long because your coworker had problems operating the fingerprint scanner. Interestingly, when I asked a TSA official later in Detroit if he could check whether there was a problem with my lock so that the key didn't work, the lock opened without any problem. However, he refused to write me a note with a TSA stamp saying that my lock worked perfectly fine - "I'm absolutely not going to get involved in anything like this." Great. Thanks.

I'm really, really annoyed with this.

World: Do not shell out money for TSA locks. They are absolutely useless.
Also, don't fly Delta through JFK. They seem to recruit their personnel in hell. 

I'm a German girl in new York (I'm an alien)

I made it to NYC now, after 30 non-fun minutes as an illegal immigrant ("May I use the bathroom, please?" - "You will first have to discuss that with an officer at the back of the room." - "May I go to the bathroom, please?" - "Just walk out of the room and to your left." So out I walk... or try. "Do you have permission to leave this room, Miss?" - "Would you like me to go and get a written statement from the officer I just asked?" - Evil look. Oops. Thou shalt not be flippant with important US officers. But I did pee with permission, in the end. Oh, and the problem was in their fingerprint scanner, not in my personal background. 
Grrrr, USA, neither your airlines nor your border control win my heart today - when I arrived at the airport this morning, I looked at the screen with the flight times and my 12.30 pm flight displayed a "delayed to 20.30". I spent five blissful seconds thinking that it was an error... then saw the queue. So I stood in line for two hours, during which time the delay was extended by three more hours to 11 hours delay in total. So... I had a free afternoon in Dublin (how very exciting). 

Right now, I will have three hours of rest at the JFK Sheraton. Meh. Will flop down now and try to get as much sleep as I possibly can squeeze out of this, for tomorrow, Detroit awaits me! 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cats as productivity enhancers

working from home It's late. I'm at the office.
That's not too horrible, considering I had a moment of inspiration, and spent a bit more time than usual during the afternoon honing my foosball skills.

However, thinking back to Monday last week, what I really miss is a cat eyeing me from behind the screen, rubbing against my shiny Macbook (the cat certainly has good taste in gadgets) and occasionally forcing me to take a break by trying to conquer the space of my keyboard. (I also had a few moments of malicious joy when I saw it battling balls of hair when it currently sheds like MAD - pet it for 5 minutes and you will have a mountain of cat hair next to it that roughly equals the original cat in size. Sadly, the cat owner does not allow me to test hair-prevention ideas like some friendly attention with the vacuum cleaner, or a full-body suit that can be emptied out once a day. Not even if I volunteer to knit that suit.)

I still think that cats are good for productivity at work. Nothing like doing repetitive tasks to the sound of two snoring kittens, nothing like the sudden sound of feline vomiting to wake you from the post-lunch sleepiness. I really think we need office cats.

(Not cat-related, but: I would like to give credit for my desktop background picture, which has been amusing me as well as office passers-by for some time now. You can find it, among with a nice selection of desktop background and icon sets, at Here's the direct link to my background, "Monstruitos".)

Monday, August 16, 2010

I want to flyyy awaaay (yeah, yeah...)

I want to fllyyyy awaaaaay
I just got back from vacations (in France) and I'm almost gone again (to the US). Wheeee!

France was good (pictures to follow in future posts) - the seagull in the picture is one of the happy creatures that get to fly around the airspace around Mont St. Michel, lucky not to have to wade through the Disneyland-ish masses on the Mont itself. (As pretty as it was, it was TOO CROWDED. It might help things if they introduced some kind of system like Granada in the Alhambra, and only allow a certain number of people in at a time. It might also help small dogs and children to survive the experience.) We decided to skip the actual abbey on top of it because the queue looked like it could take well over an hour to set foot inside, and there, I imagine it would not have been any more peaceful or empty than on the narrow streets leading up to it.

More pictures of Mont St. Michel to follow, but for now, I mostly want to remind the world of my theory on the origin of the species as far as seagulls are concerned:

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