Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Chapter 36: Christmas Day and a new year

It is Christmas day today, another dreary, wet and windy southwestern German day. All of our family and friends are in the States, so it's quiet around here. I ate too many brownies for breakfast (along with eggs and some cereal--I'm not totally beyond redemption!). We sort of took a pass on this Christmas, went to a party last week and visited a Christmas Market in Heidelberg, but otherwise did not exchange gifts. Another transition is on the way, so we're holding onto our money for awhile. We are leaving Germany soon. Lawna is retiring.

I'll be turning 60 next week, and plan to continue teaching if UTSA will have me back. The University of Maryland offered to keep me teaching online, too. Lawna is ready for retirement though. A career of Government Service has exacted its proverbial pound of flesh, Lawna is ready for something different, and so Uncle Sam is sending us back to Texas, probably around the end of January. So, we're holding onto our money until the retirement checks start showing up, and we're waiting until we get home to celebrate the holidays and my birthday. I'm holding off turning 60 for another month. I can do that, right?

 I don't know if we'll have a chance to see much else around here before we leave. There is a lot to do: closing down accounts in Germany, moving our stuff, arranging transportation and the transition to Lawna's retirement to private life. All in a month! Not much time for siteseeing, so I'm not sure where this blog will be going. I've enjoyed putting it together and hate to end it. I may need another theme. Or, we can just keep traveling during retirement. I'll think of something. Observations of Texan culture after being away for a year. 

We did make one interesting, brief trip earlier this week. We visited a nearby castle in the vicinity of Kusel, a medium sized town about 20 minutes away from us. Our German landlord told me about it. It turns out that our landlord is an accomplished guitarist. I have been looking for friends to play music with since I arrived here with no luck, and it turns out that my landlord plays. He had fun plunking around on my mandolin. Anyway, he told me that before we leave Germany we should visit nearby Lichtenburg Castle and check out the Musician Museum. The next day, Lawna and I drove out in the rain to nearby Kusel and visited the castle. It was a dreary Transylvanian looking day which only added to the mystique of the castle on the hill. We have visited many castles in Germany--they're about as common as barns in Kansas. Most are piles of rubble in varying states of repair, but Lichtenburg is amazingly intact, and still undergoing restoration work. As with most German castles, you can climb around freely at no charge and eat picnic lunch on the parapets if you like. This, however, was not a good picnic lunch day. It was cold, windy and rainy up on that craggy hill. We climbed around briskly to keep warm and I took the pictures featured here.

 The museum is situated beside the castle grounds, within the original walled citadel, and tells the history of the wandering musicians of the area. The Rheinland-Pfalz/Saarland region of modern Germany has passed between the hands of various principalities of Germany (itself a modern concept) and France for many centuries and has thus been the battlefield for many wars, followed by periods of famine and grinding poverty. In the late nineteenth century, during one of these desperate periods, the Kusel area produced many itinerate musicians who set out wandering all over the world to eke out a living and send money home. Many of these musicians emigrated to America, including Texas, and there is a San Antonio connection; in fact, the museum features an article from the San Antonio Express News (pre-Rupert Murdoch) telling about brass bands visiting the Texas German communities from Rheinland-Pfalz. Germans have a long tradition of widespread music education, which, no doubt, is why Germans have produced so many great composers and orchestras. This exodus of musicians helped to populate the many dance bands that became popular in England and America during the turn of the century. Music clubs have been a feature of German culture to this day, and were the basis of German-American clubs like the Tuesday Musical Club in San Antonio. Many of America's first important orchestras and conductors came out of the German musical club tradition as well. It's fascinating to see the history of America's immigration experience from the other end, not just the Institute of Texas Cultures.

 After visiting the museum, we ate at a pleasant, warm restaurant nestled by the citadel gate which specializes in wild game cuisine. The specialties were priced a bit steeply, so we opted for some less expensive ravioli drenched in a milk sauce with diced almonds. It was a cross between Italian style and German style pasta (like dumplings). Interesting.

 We might yet fit in some short trips before we leave, but for the most part we are finishing up our German adventure. It has been wonderful, and there is much that I will miss. However, the closer we get to leaving, the more I look forward to going home. We certainly miss family. This trip, though, has been a wonderful way to embark on my next decade of life. My fifties started off badly with illness, but progressed to much better health and an incredible experience abroad; and, I hope that my sixties will be even better. Enjoy the pictures, and I will certainly be back on the blog with something.

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