Nibbling at the Edges of Eclipse Day: The Moon Bites Back

Everyone is talking about today’s solar eclipse.  It’ll draw its dark line diagonally across the US today, but the inky darkness will bleed out across most of the country– even those of us who aren’t in the line of total eclipse.  It’s been the big story for days now, leading a news cycle that has contained other chatter that included stories about North Korea and Russia: a big old stew of news that brought to mind two posts from a couple of years ago; posts about Moon Pies, Cold War, Russians, and North Korean politics.  Strange bedfellows, maybe . . . maybe not.  

Seemed an appropriate time to bring out that original post (Moon Pies and Moon Landings), as well as it’s follow up on the saga of Choco Pies in N. Korea.  Happy reading, bon appetit, and Godspeed on eclipse day!

 

Moon Pies and Moon Landings (Modern History and the German Grocery Store)

I began writing this post under the title “The Perks and Perils of Shopping Abroad.”  However, I soon realized that the insights you are about to read are much broader than my mishaps in the grocery aisles.

The larger story starts in the years after the Second World War.  (Or even after the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution.)  It gains steam in the Cold War and the Race for Space.   However, the more immediate story starts in the aisles of my local German grocery store, Edeka.  And like the larger story of political machinations, it’s fraught with perks and perils.

For example, it was recently brought to my attention that the lovely, fragrant German laundry detergent I’ve been using for about three months is actually fabric softener.  Who knew?  Well, in fact, I had suspected for a few weeks.  My clothes were so fragrant and soft!  But were they clean?  Well . . . they weren’t not clean.

These things happen when you shop abroad.
But great things happen too.  This morning, I was meandering the aisles of our grocery store, picking up jam, sorting through coffee, and pondering fish, when I stumbled upon the most amazing thing on an Eastern European/Russian shelf.  Moon Pies!    Well, okay, Choco-Pies–but they were Russian Moon Pies!    Eureka!   For all of you non-American (or non-Southern) folks out there, here’s a little lesson:  Moon Pies are chocolate, graham, and marshmallow pies that are a Southern staple and made in Tennessee.  Before the markets were flooded with snack cakes and convenience food, there was the Moon Pie.  Apparently, they were produced beginning in the 1920’s and they were certainly big stuff in the sixties and seventies.  (My mother loved to pack my lunch with Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, but my heart, and my taste buds, yearned for Moon Pies.)   They were iconic.  And delicious.

And here I was, in Germany, staring down a Russian doppelganger!  At first I laughed, and then I greedily stuffed a box into my shopping cart!  I considered my good fortune as I walked the streets of town, heading home with my grocery bag and its treasure.  But as I walked, I started thinking about more than my good fortune.  I started thinking about the doppelganger-ness of the little chocolate pie: the shadowy counterpart, the ghostly (and ominous) double.  The American Pie/the Russian Pie:  forever locked in a shadowy dance.

For sure, I’ve watched too many episodes of “The Americans,” the Cold War spy drama, lately.  But my odd brain was playing out this Spy v. Spy (Pie v. Pie) drama  and finding it fascinating.

By the time I got home, I was mad to know more.  I ripped out the Choco Pie box and scanned the label for clues–amongst the Cyrillic  (Russian) script and German sticker stood out something I could decipher.  Original since 1974.  Ha!  It wasn’t the original then–we got there first.  Not only did we get to the moon first*, but we got to the moon pie first.  I chuckled as I opened the box and saw that the pies were smaller than their American counterpart.  Well, what did I expect.

But then I took a bite.  Oh my.  I took another bite.  They were delicious.  So fresh, so chocolaty.  I felt conflicted in my patriotic soul.  There had to be an explanation for this;  no way the shadowy double could rival the Southern staple.  Think, think!  (Take another bite.)  Think some more!   Oh–of course–the problem is that too many of the American Moon Pies I’ve eaten have been plucked from dusty lower shelves of rundown convenience stores or seedy Stuckey’s truck stops.  Who knows how long they had lingered there, gathering dust and grime?  That’s it.  That must be it.

Tang ad, 1966

I was raised in the 70’s with a taste for Moon Pies and Tang.   In my mind, that era will always be  about playing kick the can, catching fire flies, eating Moon Pies, and drinking Tang like the astronauts.  I remember some of the Apollo missions; I coveted the GI Joe astronaut dolls (Barbie never had the astronaut get up, although her house and pink convertible weren’t too shabby); and I marveled when Skylab sustained people and research in space.
I didn’t cheer on the Cold War or Nuclear Proliferation– they scared the hell out of me– but I was  a product of a culture and a time.   I didn’t know whether I was an observer or participant, but I felt the adrenaline of the Race.  The Race for Hearts and Minds, the Race for Space, for Superiority, for Survival.   And then I tucked my head down into a Moon Pie  or  Mad Magazine and took refuge from the noise of it all.

Only to find today that, maybe– just maybe– my youthful Soviet doppelganger was doing the same thing in 1974.
Only she couldn’t call her treat a “Moon Pie”. . . because we got there first.
Just another lesson learned at my German grocery store.

*Sort of.  We put a man on the moon first.  But before that, the  Soviet Sputnik program beat us into outer space and the Soviet Luna program reached the moon with unmanned crafts.

Time Magazine cover, Dec. 6, 1968

 

Update to “Moon Pies and Moon Landings” (first posted just a few days after the Moon Pie post)

This may come as a shock, but apparently my Moon Pie post was not as loopy as it sounded to many of you. Turns out Moon Pies (or Orion Choco-Pies, their Russian/Asian doppelganger) really are a propaganda piece in the machine of Cold War.  The present tensions between North and South Korea, that is.

My sister sent me a link to this very interesting article from The Daily Mail (UK)–looks like it was published today.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3119500/Chocs-away-North-Korea-unleashes-latest-weapon-against-rivals-South-counterfeit-Choco-Pie-cakes-rival-delicacy-available-border.html

The opening lines of John Hall’s article read like this:
*Chocs away! North Korea unleashes latest weapon against its rivals in the South – counterfeit Choco Pie cakes to rival delicacy available over the border
*North Korea has a roaring black market in the popular Choco Pie snack
Sweet treats change hands for £3.60 in Pyongyang, but only 17p in Seoul 
*So popular they are even used as alternative payment by some employers 
*But Kim Jong-Un is angry at the North’s love of a South Korean product 
He is now making his own Choco Pies in order to bring down their value 

Well, Mr. Kim Jong-Un, the joke is on you.  You are just putty in the hands of the universal Moon Pie awakening.

 

 

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Platform 9 3/4 . . . or, Ways My Family Travels Diagon-Alley

HPIM1167
At Kings Cross Station, London, Platform 9 3/4, driving a baggage cart through the brick wall like true Harry Potter fans. 2007 maybe?

We try to be normal.  We really do.  But every straight line we draw canters just a little to the side–and so, in travel (as in everything else), our lives run a little diagonally.

This truth was on full display a few years ago in Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg:

The thing for Americans to do here, besides wander and take in the beauty, is to stage photos that resemble scenes from The Sound of Music.  (The song, Do Re Mi was partly filmed here.)  Ideally, these photos look a little like this:

do re mi

This is the top gate at Mirabell.    (Notice the fortress, Hohensalzburg, on the hill in the background–it’s really a fantastic shot of the gardens and the city behind.)  We spent some time here.  We took some photos here.  But none looked like this.

What did they look like?  Well, look to your right.  DSC_0125   This is my son, sleeping (while being serenaded by an accordion player) on those same steps at the Mirabell Gardens.  Why is he sleeping, you ask?  He’s tired from sightseeing, but especially from running through the gardens.  Singing Do-Re-Mi?  Oh no.  No.  This child was reinacting some “American Ninja in Salzburg” screenplay known only to him.  My favorite scene from that movie, below.  (Clearly the people around him are a little surprised and amused by the sight.)

DSC_0098 - Copy

 

I’ve been thinking about our quirky travels this past weekend while in Chicago with my daughter.  In another year, she’ll be heading off to college.  And my son, the masked ninja, begins high school in August.  They’ve grown up fast, and our travel adventures with them are changing.  I already miss the visits to “knight schools” and castles, the nativity plays we attended with dishtowels  on their heads, and their absolute inability to stand still for photos.

 

Still, I imagine our “diagonal” travels will continue into the future.  After all, they started before our children were born.  In Turkey, we were just two people with little dog garnering stares as we drove by in an old Volvo wagon.  On it’s own, that doesn’t sound so strange, but we stuck out like a sore thumb.  In Turkey, it wasn’t unusual to count 7 people on a motorcycle and sidecar.  So when we made our way through the streets– streets that might find two lanes stuffed with five “lanes,” including cars, giant trucks, mopeds, buses, and donkeys– our long wagon, carrying only two people and a tiny dog, was the thing outside of the norm.  Why waste such a long vehicle on so few travelers?  Why bother with a dog too small to herd sheep?  And why crawl slowly through the melee of a Turkish traffic jam instead of throwing yourself into the mix full throttle while laying on the horn?  Clearly, we were the nuts who didn’t understand the rules of the game.

When you travel, people always tell you to try to fit in– obey the customs, don’t be too awkward or too obvious.  It’s safer and more respectful to conform to the norm as best you can.

They tell us to try to fit in, but who does that, honestly?

Sometimes you just have to embrace the diagonal.  What else can you do?

HPIM1104
In Germany, 2008.

 

Send ‘Em to Whitby! (Happy Halloween)

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Whitby, England. Beautiful . . . and a little spooky. (old postcard)

If you’re yearning for an atmospheric English town with cobbled and winding streets, hugging the seaside in crannies and cliffs, and teaming with a sense of menace as the sun goes down, then you’re due a trip to Whitby.

Can you find Scarborough? (red dot)
Can you find Scarborough?

Whitby lies in the northern corner of North Yorkshire, a close neighbor to Scarborough, and is a popular seaside retreat.  But it’s not all sea spray and fish and chips here.  It’s not all Victorian boardwalks, either.  No,  Whitby’s greatest claim to fame may be as part of the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (And you thought you were safe this Halloween if you just steered clear of Transylvania.  Wrong!)

In the gothic tale, Dracula is aboard the ship The Demeter and is shipwrecked on the Yorkshire shore.   He then storms Whitby in the form of a dark dog, runs up the hill to St. Mary’s Church and the Abbey and graveyard above the city,  and soon terrorizes his victims as the vampire that he is.

Looking out to the mouth of the harbor, thinking of Dracula's shipwreck.
Looking out to the mouth of the harbor, thinking of Dracula’s shipwreck.

In fact, Bram Stoker did visit Whitby, and it seems to be where much of his story took root in local history and scenery.  The Demeter  shipwreck was based on a true incident — the shipwreck of The Demetrius, a ship full of coffins being transported for burial . . . a grim cargo that proceeded to wash ashore on the town’s beaches for days after the accident.

The city of Whitby is lovely and would certainly survive as a traveler’s destination without the legend of Dracula, but she has been forever tied to the story now.  And the city is all too happy to play up its link to the blood-thirsty Count.  There are plenty of Dracula tours, books, and plaques to remind visitors of the city’s link to the gruesome story.  It’s all in fun.

Unless, of course, you are excessively squeamish . . . or  roughly four years old.

My children were taking this all in, and William, very young at the time, was growing a little skittish about Whitby.  He constantly looked over his shoulder, he stayed close by our sides (unusual for the  turbo-charged kid who usually ran yards ahead of us), and by the end of the day he was loudly and frequently proclaiming his dislike of Whitby.

My son never mentioned Dracula in his complaints; still, he was very clear about his feelings: he would never go back to Whitby.  Never.  Ever.  It wasn’t his kind of town at all.

So we never did go back to Whitby.   But we came close.

A few months after our visit to the sinister town, we had an unwanted visitor in our house.  A small, furry, unwanted visitor.  A mouse was stalking my son’s bedroom and, it seemed, spending time under his bed while William was asleep.  While this didn’t make me any too happy, it really upset Will.  We wanted to catch this rodent and catch him fast.  However, I have a soft spot for animals and was hoping that a catch and release plan would be possible.

My son and I walked to the local hardware store one morning to discuss humane mousetraps and my desire to re-house this mouse.  The owner looked at me like I was a truly daft American.  He produced a humane trap from his backroom, but shook his head at my plan.  “It won’t work,” he said.  “You won’t get rid of that mouse,” he continued, “unless you take it many  miles away, it will just come back to its home.”  (Its home, of course, being my  home.)

I imagine this man was overstating just how far a little mouse’s legs could carry him, but before I could question the store owner  my tiny son shouted out, “Let’s take him to Whitby!  We’ll take him to Whitby!”  (I should note that Whitby was an hour and a half from our home.)

The store owner looked at my son, then returned his gaze to me– registering that we Americans were even more daft than he had originally suspected.  I was in no mood to fight his assessment:  I took the trap, told my son that was a great idea, and quickly left the shop.*

For years after, whenever someone at our house was badly behaved, they were told that they’d better straighten up  or we’d take them to Whitby.   A terrible fate indeed– a place only fit for the  worst and most wicked.

whitby-bones-theguardian
Photo of erosion, from the Daily Mail

Although not really–it’s a very nice town.  Except that. . . well, it almost does seem that something is a little off about Whitby.  The cliffs over Whitby began crumbing just three years ago:  a potential disaster for the church.  If they can’t stop the erosion, St. Mary’s could soon tumble into the sea.  Locals are watching the situation with concern, and more than a little dread and disgust:  the homeowners below the eroding cliff report that skulls and bones  are falling from the sky into their backyards.  The crumbling cliff is the church’s graveyard!  This is like the wreck of The Demetrius all over again.  It doesn’t bode well, my friends. . . it doesn’t bode well.

So a word to the wise:  if you are naughty enough to get sent to Whitby any time soon, make sure to pack your garlic necklace.    Happy Halloween!

*   *   *  *

A few more photos from Whitby:

2007-001-copy

 

2007-003
Near the top of the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey.

 

Above the harbor at Whitby, high up on the cliffs, sits Whitby Abbey– or the ruins of it, anyway.  It was to the abbey and graveyard that Dracula ran, up 199 stairs that are still there today.

If you make it up the stairs (not such a bad climb), you have a great view of the city and the harbor below.

 

 

whitby%20multiview

 

 

If I were designing this postcard, it would have a little grey mouse at its center!

 

 

*Our little mouse never did make it to Whitby.  He met a different, but sad, end that  I’d rather not discuss.

There Is A Small Medium at Large

Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic, in the movie Ghost.
Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic medium, in the movie Ghost.

Well, my traveling friends, it’s true: there is a small medium at large.  You know how, when you travel, you are met with  new and unexpected experiences?  That’s the draw of it, right?  This is also true when you move to a new region–there are sure to be interesting developments, to be moments of “Oh, wow,  that’s never happened to me before.”

Any number of moments, really.   But here is one for your consideration.

The red stone house in Germany
The red stone house in Germany

As you know, we’ve just moved back to the States from Germany.  And if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was sorely disappointed that the very old stone house we lived in there wasn’t haunted, even though we had enough ghost stories under our belts already.  Anyhoo, as we packed up to bid Germany goodbye and we planned our new life in Florida, we gave up any hope of supernatural tales.  In fact, in our last weeks, we were told that the old German house used to be called Villa Sunshine by the locals.  Not much spooky there.

So off to sunny Florida, where sangria and surf are the norm and atmospheric tales stay at bay.

Then again . . . we hadn’t even gotten to Florida before a Floridian friend was in contact and, on hearing where we would be renting our house, said “Hey, that’s the neighborhood with the psychic, isn’t it?”  zoltarfull02

Was it?  We didn’t know.  Honestly, we didn’t care.   But weeks later, as we moved into the new digs, we found ourselves on the lookout.  Any odd-birds in the neighborhood?  Anyone walking around in a turban, looking like Zoltar the fortune teller?

Our curiosity was peaked, but we had no idea what we might be looking for.  There were no “Sister Rosa, Palm Reader” signs in front yards–the Home Owner’s Association would have frowned on that.  There were no Gypsy caravans parked in driveways.  So we were on the lookout for any eccentrics that we might pin the role on, but we were coming up with nothing.  Which just made us more curious.

I don’t have any experience with psychic mediums.  My only reference points are examples like the Zoltar fortune teller machine and Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the movie Ghost.  (A character whose narrative arc is pretty interesting:  she starts out as a charlatan and ends up being more sage than she ever knew she could be.)  If you don’t remember her, here’s a small clip for you:

 

Yeah, generally speaking, I guess the idea of a psychic makes me giggle.  At worst, this person would be a con man–  ready to prey on folks who are looking for reassurance or struggling through grief.  But then again, there are some people who are intuitive, you know?   And so many of us have stories that defy logical explanations, so maybe . . . just maybe. . .

Bottom line:  I’m a skeptic, but not foolish enough to say it isn’t possible.

So my husband and I continued our neighborhood watch– it was our project to figure out where this eccentric might live.  We embraced the challenge a little too happily:  we watched the neighborhood and the neighbors, we commented on odd decor and strange choices of head-gear, we sat in judgment of peculiarities or individual flights of fancy.

Little did we know. . .

Honestly, here’s exactly where I should have seen the plot twist coming– I’m an English and Religious Studies major, after all, and this is the age old tale.  When you’re looking for the trouble out there–the fault in your neighbor– well, you’re looking in the wrong place.  More often than not, the fault is your own.

So guess where this psychic lived?  Yep.  Oh, yep.

Turns out, we’d moved into the house.

*  * *

I’ll give up no information on this person– who by all accounts from neighbors, and our own dealings, is fantastic.  In fact, this makes me want to be more open to the idea of a . . . psychic?  I don’t even really know what that is.  I have this hodgepodge of terms in my head– psychic, clairvoyant, medium, spiritualist, etc.– and I don’t really know what they mean, or how they’d be distinguished one from the other.   Really, all this situation has taught me is that I know nothing and should probably keep my mouth shut.   We’ll see how well that lesson takes . . .

But in the meantime, I’m left with this:  as much as I’m a skeptic in my head, my heart seems to be a total buy in– and it’s causing me some real trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord dropped by the house with an extra set of  keys that we needed.   I answered the door, was welcoming and polite, as usual, and then suddenly froze  as I was shaking this person’s hand.  I had the thought, “What if _____ can sense my thoughts?  What if they know I know?  That I think being a psychic is strange?”  Of course, these thoughts were followed by a barrage of “Stop thinking.  Seriously.  Right now–stop.  Oh, I can’t control my thoughts!!!”    And, intuitive or not, anyone would have gotten some strange vibes from me then.  I’m pretty sure my entire facial expression went to the deer caught in the headlights pose for a minute or more, and I was pretty much a jabbering idiot.  So again, lesson to the arrogant:  judge not lest ye be judged.   Which is not fun.

And this week the same problem arose.  This time, our air conditioning started limping (freon leak), and we had to call the landlord.  My husband tried to hand me the phone to make the call– I’d noticed the problem and would generally have made the call myself.  But I was not feeling it.  It had been a stressful day –unpacking boxes, sifting through breakage, and muttering obscenities all day– and I just wasn’t ready to call up a mind reading spiritualist.   I had to, shame-faced, take my husband out of earshot of the kids and say, “You really have to make this call, because I think that maybe I DO believe in psychics, and I think that a psychic would pick up on a whole lot of bad juju and general craziness in me right now, and I’m not feeling like being evicted from my house today just because I happen to suffer from this-is-what-it’s-like-inside-my-wierd-head-syndrome.”

God bless my husband.  He asked no further questions and just made the phone call.

I did, however, have to speak to our small medium at large a couple of days later to confirm that the air conditioning repair man had been by.  I think that conversation went well.  Granted, I was manically chipper sounding.  Possibly one toe over the crazy-line of chipper. (I had to talk fast before the “can’t-  control- my- thoughts–you’re a pyschic!” stuff crept in.)  But it is what it is.

Any psychic worth their salt would understand the issue and forgive me.

I think it could be a real burden being a psychic and dealing with all us crazy humans.  Hopefully the voices from the other side are much more sensible.

 

Oh, My Aching Back

July 20, 2016

I woke up this morning in my new house.  I’ve been here about two weeks and been living out of a suitcase for over a month now.  Often as not, I’ve been sleeping on a blow up bed on the floor.  DSC_0260 - Copy

This is part of the move madness that holds you in its grip when you stage a move from overseas—it’s a protracted madness, because when you move an entire household of furniture over the ocean, you move it on a slow boat.

So I woke up for the umpteenth day on the floor, and I had to use considerable effort to haul myself upright. I’ve developed  a wicked catch in my side that Advil only dulls.  I didn’t have that problem two weeks ago, so I think there is some cumulative wear and tear that this sort of living takes on you.

Then again, I wasn’t 50 a few weeks ago.

Glasses and graying hair-- it's no joke.
Glasses and graying hair– it’s no joke.

Over the hill jokes aside,  I’m holding my own pretty well.  My knees and ankles do click, and reading glasses, which are the bane of my existence, are paradoxically also my most valued possession at present.

Still, I have no real complaints.  All in all, I’m feeling pretty youthful. .  . and just a tad immature.

However, there has been another disturbing development.  That new house I’m waking up in?  It’s in a retirement community. (!!??!!)  Believe me,  I didn’t know this when we signed the contract.  Had no idea.  It’s just a slightly cruel twist of fate.

There are other families in this neighborhood, and some of them young, but the majority of my neighbors are retired.  (Well, this is Florida.)

Before we signed a contract on this house,  I Googled the general area.  All the intel came back positive.  After we signed the contract, I had more time to do the peripheral research– figure out exactly what our corner of the neighborhood was all about.  I started by looking deeper into the neighborhood clubhouse and the many photos of it posted online–just hoping to get a better idea of any activities that might be going on, or a general vibe to the community.  That’s when I began to have a creeping suspicion.

There was a New Year’s Eve party at the clubhouse last year.  Photos were posted.  I thought to myself, this is sure to reveal some neighborhood secrets! And, for sure, it was revelatory.  By the looks of it, the party was attended by only the over 70 crowd.  Still, this wasn’t shocking, because most people have other places to go on New Years. (This is what I told myself.)

Then I looked at the photos from Mardi Gras.  The same senior (but somewhat randy) crowd,  all wearing purple and gold.  It seemed a little suspect.  I Googled the demographics, and suspicions were confirmed: the average age here is over 66.  I wrung my hands and reminded myself, “This is Florida—demographics will be skewed.”

Then we rolled into town last week and were happy to find that there are a few other families around.  Haven’t seen a lot of other teens yet, but hopefully they are here.  The good news about living in an older community is that the community pool isn’t over-run (I think that’s good; not sure my kids agree), and the homeowner’s association cuts your grass for you (that is worth the clicking knees any day!).  But, I confirmed with a friend in town, this area is considered a retiree community on our side of town.  *Sigh*

I won’t lie to you—there is a little sting to turning 50 and immediately moving into a retiree-rich community.  There is a wicked, biting humor to it.

But I do love my neighbors– they are all friendly and eager to greet you with a bottle of wine and a smile.  Also, I have a small beach and quiet pool down the block, and a grounds crew who cut the grass, so I think I can live with it.   I’m just praying that my children don’t draw too many scolding looks for the tremendous noise they sometimes create . . . and that I never have to fend off a pass from the 85 year old crowd.  There are not enough Geritol vitamins in the world to make that okay.

You know, I think I’ll avoid the Mardi Gras party at the clubhouse next year.