How cold is cold?

Trip Start Oct 24, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Germany  , Rhineland-Palatinate,
Saturday, January 30, 2010

Because Tennesseans and Georgians get excited at even the prospect of snow, my family and I all grew up fascinated by it. As children, it was considered a luxury and a windfall. I will never forget the two sleds our friends, the Rodgers family, had - the Royal Racer and the Lightning Glider – or the homemade hot chocolate my mother would make, as my siblings and I would come in cold and wet, sliming the house, after tumbling in the snow.  I can comprehend much more clearly now what my parents' perspective must have been as the curators of a small zoo. Yet, as an adult, I feel privileged to still hold on to an unaffected, childlike wonder when it snows. Being from the southeast may factor into that, as well; I have noticed with which little regard people who were raised in the north speak of snow. Now that I live "up north," albeit on a different continent altogether, the cold, white blankets that perpetually smother the ground outdoors often compel me to wonder if I, too, will someday become callous to snow’s magic.

This morning when I walked two doors down to the neighborhood bakery, I stepped as lightly as I could, since I didn't put on my snow boots, or even a jacket for that matter (Tracy got upset with me for not covering up sufficiently). I was sporting low-top Converse. Save for house slippers, Converse are probably the least suitable shoe for walking in deep snow. Even a few steps into my short trek, I wished I had on my boots; the snow reached mid-calf. It was recalcitrance that prevented me from turning around immediately. When I had reached the midpoint to the bakery, I began to chide myself for not quashing my stubborn streak. My socks and feet were getting colder and wetter by the step, and I started envisioning the walk back, and how cold and waterlogged my toes would be. I did not go back to change, though. By that time, I just wanted to get to the bakery to buy breakfast materials of bread, cheese, and eggs. I ended up getting chocolate cake, too.

When I arrived at the doorstep, I half expected to see the bakery closed, but the sign if the window said “Geöffnet,” so I wiped my shoes on the mat and went on in. The owner, and I think sole employee, came out to welcome me. I am sure she is always pleased to see me, since Tracy and I are neighbors, and we support her business. But I cannot help imagining an extra, involuntary little mental preparation on her part when she comes out from the kitchen and sees me contemplating the items on the counter.

“Guten Tag,” she said to me with a friendly, thin-lipped smile to match her gaunt features and wispy red hair.

“Guten Tag,” I replied. That much I can say without an onset of mild panic.

Joe Paterno, the renowned and ancient college football coach, is known to have said “The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” I did not prepare adequately for the walk to the bakery, but I had spent a solid half hour researching how to correctly (or at least intelligibly) say in German “what kinds of bread to you have today” and “I think I’ll have a look around.” For time’s sake and to avoid reflexive pronouns, I had to simplify the latter utterance to “I want to look at the things.”

“Was für ein Brot haben Sie heute?” I asked with a reciprocal smile.

When I obviously did not understand her long reply, she fetched two index cards and pointed at the words. When I again did not understand one of the handwritten words, she gave a little grin and got a bucket from the kitchen, one-fourth filled with pumpkin seeds. Ah-ha, pumpkin bread, I quickly surmised. And also because she said the word 'pumpkin’. The other option had the word “Quark” in it, which I have learned means “curds,” so I opted for the pumpkin bread, though the “Quarkbrot” is actually pretty good.

Having to admit that I don’t understand something is always a little humbling. Remembering that this is normal, and that the other person does not necessarily see the situation as I do, is always important in language learning. Thus, I felt tempted to switch to English, since the woman speaks a little English, but decided to stick with German. Just then, she said something else that sent my mind aflutter.

“Schnee” I thought, “I heard ‘Schnee.’ She’s talking about the weather!”

“Ja, wir haben vielen Schnee,” I proudly replied. I must have said something appropriate judging her reaction. Before I left, I purchased the bread, half a chocolate cake, 10 eggs, and goat cheese, and even managed a short, stilted, um, ‘conversation’ with the woman. When I returned home, wet and cold, Tracy scolded me for not wrapping up properly. I am recovering from a mild cold, after all. Then, she and I enjoyed a cozy, comfortable breakfast on a cold winter’s day.

Sometimes snow makes for the warmest weather.

Update: Dante and I went out to play in the snow. I measured a the snow in a place that was, as I estimated, of average depth. Came up past my elbow. How exciting.
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john on

keep these coming--i really enjoy them.

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