Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Germans Go Gaga and Bosnia On My Mind

The Germans can’t seem to wait for warmer weather. They go gaga at any chance to enjoy some semblance of sun. It is still fairly cold here. This past weekend in the pedestrian area of Wiesbaden city center, there was festival going on. I am not sure what this fair was about. It was like a “it’s almost spring” festival. Wiesbaden has many festivals such as wine festivals, Christmas Market, Fasching (similar to Mardi Gras), Autumn festival, etc., but I do not know what this last festival was. Wiesbaden’s version of Chamber of Commerce touts 16 festivals throughout the year. That’s more than one festival a month. On this last festival, there seem to be a mish-mash of things happening at once to have a coherent theme. There were kid’s amusement rides set up; food and art & crafts vendors selling their specialties; an outdoor auto show was going on; there was an area set aside for fabric vendors to sell their ware; a lot of people dressed as bunnies who were handing out candy filled plastic Easter eggs; and the countless street performers trying to earn a living. The fussgänger or pedestrian zone is usually busy in weekends anyway, but it is a lot more crowded during a festival. And on Sunday, all the shops and stores were open in this area. Usually, only a few restaurants and coffee shops are open on Sunday in the pedestrian zone. Any reason to hold a festival is fine by me.

Anyway, back to my original premise of Germans going gaga. All the restaurants and coffee shops brought out their outdoor furniture for service. I was walking around on a cold Saturday with a winter jacket, a head beanie, and a scarf. I noticed that people were having coffee or eating their meal outside wearing the same type of winter gear that I had on. Most of the outdoor seating were taken up. I was thinking to myself why they do not go inside where heat is available to have their hot drink or meal. I can understand during the warmer weather when the pedestrian area becomes a bevy of outdoor cafes and restaurants, but during cool weather, why? The Germans and probably most Europeans take every chance they get to be outdoors. I have noticed that they take their kids, even the babies and toddlers in strollers, outside even in a blustery, cold day. Ever the vigilant American, a Seattle-ite at that, I went to an inviting Starbucks and enjoyed my latte and carrot cake inside the warm and cozy confines of the shop. I was not about to freeze my ass and “people watch” the throng of festival goers amble the promenade, as most seem to be doing. That was not very German or European of me.

The following is a picture from this past Sunday's Wiesbaden Spring Festival:

On another subject --- because of the recent events in Kosovo, I have somehow been reminiscing of my time spent in Bosnia. Bosnia is practically neighbors with Kosovo. I was in Bosnia for 18 months from early January 2006 thru end of June 2007. It has been almost nine months since Eagle Base in Bosnia was closed and turned back over to the Bosnian Ministry of Defense. I enjoyed my work and had a great time there. I never felt that I was assigned to a “special deployment” area, as the US military calls it. While there I was receiving “danger pay” - additional compensation similar to “combat pay” that the US military personnel were receiving. But I never felt or experienced any danger, even when going to nearby towns on my own. I had a Toyota Land Cruiser that I drove outside to the nearest town of Tuzla or other nearby towns/villages on a regular basis, once I got accustomed to driving outside the base.

The following is a picture of my last day in Eagle Base, late June 2007:

Eagle Base had about 250 US Army soldiers until November 2006. There were roughly 500+ European Union soldiers in the base until the very end (Austrians, Swedish, Finns, Greeks, Irish, Turks, Lithuanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Portuguese, Polish, among others). Most of them had their own place to relax (tv room, game room, etc.) and their own bar, which was open to everyone, not just their own soldiers. The Irish, Austrian, and Swedish bars were fairly popular.

I had become good friends with many of these groups, especially with the Swedes and the Austrians. I had become very close with the Swedish contingent through a Sergeant Major who became a good friend of mine. He introduced me to the whole Swedish contingent at Eagle Base. Not counting the Irish, they were the group that spoke the best English. I also dealt day to day with the commanding officer of the Swedish contingent, a Lt. Colonel, because he was in charge of base security. I was invited to their functions BBQ’s, trips outside on weekends (see my blog of 14 Feb 08, http://notesfromelvin.blogspot.com/2008/02/b-days-innas-legacy-and-long-weekend-in.html ), and special visits to Sarajevo. They readily accepted and adopted me as part of their group. I had also joined them on their quiz shows held on early Friday evenings at their bar. I formed a team with five other Swedes to participate in the quiz shows. There were usually at least ten teams participating. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to have this considerable knowledge of useless trivial facts (it could be because of the countless hours reading World Book Encyclopedias as a kid; don’t ask me when or where I had time to do this). I knew it would come handy one day. There was another time, my knowledge of useless trivia helped: Late 1984 in Washington D.C. playing Trivial Pursuit with a team consisting of me and my landlord, and three other teams consisting of her friends who all were Geraldine Ferraro backers, as a presidential candidate and later as Mondale’s running mate. Her house in Chevy Chase, MD was used for Ferraro fundraising event planning throughout the year. I rented the basement of the house when I interned with US Nuclear Regulatory Agency. To win the game, our team’s question was about the team mascot for Texas Christian University. They were surprised that I knew the answer, which is Horned Frogs. I got accused of pre-reading all the question and answer cards. I defiantly told them that I did not cheat, but they would not believe me. They insisted that no one would know the team mascot of a small, unknown school of the now defunct Southwest Conference, except for people that attended that school. Man that was a longer diversion, than I thought. I get scatter brained sometimes and I get sidetrack. I hope I didn’t lose anyone. Anyway back to the subject --- I helped the Swedish team win or at least finish near the top each time. There is usually a prize awarded to the top three finishers, a bottle of wine, free drink at the bar, candies, etc. I still keep in touch with a few of them via e-mail. I hope to visit some of them while I am here in Europe.

V for Victory - the following picture is with my quiz show team, Quiz Killers, after a win. The name was their idea not mine. Picture was taken early January 2007.

I had also become friends with a several Austrians soldiers. The Austrians ran the EU equivalent to DPW. What I was doing in the American side of the base with a small staff of local nationals, the Austrians were doing on their smaller side with 20+ soldiers. Go figure. They also had a nice bar called the Austrian Hut, and when the bars closed at 11 or midnight, they had their secret place of gathering to continue drinking. They had the good beer, weizen, which I preferred. They also seem to have a stash of snacks available, such as cured sausages and meats, and good cheese which go well with beer. I dealt with them on a daily basis because of the coordination for base closure planning and deconstruction, and sometimes would continue into the evenings at their bar. I was also invited to many of their social functions.

The following is a picture with the chief of logistics, a Lt. Colonel, for the EU forces at Eagle Base and his top NCO aide. Both are Austrians. Picture was taken during the 4th of July 2006 celebration at Eagle Base.

I had also become a regular at the Irish Bar, sometimes as a performer. A few of the Irish soldiers formed their own band and played at their bar on weekends. They had very good equipment (electronic keyboard, sound system, and guitar amps). They had a lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard player, and an Irish traditional drum player. They played traditional Irish music, some American late 60’s and early 70’s rock, and some recent American pop/rock. They would invite me to watch on Friday and Saturday evenings. They played incredibly. Since I played a little bit of guitar on the American side among friends, and once the Irish found out that I played some guitar they invited me to play one song. The first song I played for them was Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” They were somewhat impressed; I also got the crowd to sing along the chorus. So it was all good. They had asked for more, so I played them my repertoire of America, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, and Simon & Garfunkel tunes. I got the crowd on my side.

Unexpectedly, I was asked to be the Irish bar act when the band was taking its break. The traditional Irish drummer wanted to join me. I said, why not. I really enjoyed doing it. I was able to overcome my fear of being in front of a crowd. So two or three times on Friday or Saturday evenings, I had my 15-20 minutes of performing with the drummer (playing a traditional Irish drum - bodhran, they call it) at the Irish Bar. Almost like an opening act, except I played when the band was on their break. As compensation, drinks at the bar for free. I don’t drink much and am not a big fan of Guinness Ale. I had a free mug or two of beer – that was it. I also had jam sessions with the band members and other guitar players, after the bar closed, into the wee hours of the morning.

So my claim to fame at Eagle Base in Bosnia was not that I was the Public Works Director, second in command on the civilian side and camp manager when my supervisor was away; it was the music I provided to lonely, homesick, booze filled soldiers during the weekends. Two songs from my set that received the most attention: Jim Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” and “New York’s Not My Home.” I kid you not; there were a few eyes that well up during the performance. I guess my performance really stunk or they were plenty “liquored up” that the alcohol somehow induced nostalgic feelings for their home or their loved ones.

The following is a photo and a video and a picture during one of my performances at the Irish bar. It is taken with by a friend’s mini digital camera. The video is dark and short, just the way I like. I hate seeing myself perform. It is not as bad as Joe Crocker, but I close my eyes, make facial contortions, just the same; no twitching, but I move my head continuously. In the video, I am about to complete America’s “Sandman.” The photo and the video take place around mid-December 2006.

The weekends at Eagle Base were fun. It usually started late Friday afternoon at the coffee shop in the base, then dinner, then to the Swedish bar for the quiz show, then to the Irish bar for some music, then ended with jamming with the Irish after the bar closed or joined the Austrian in their secret bar since the bars officially closed at midnight on Fridays and 11 PM on Saturdays. Lest you think that I am an alcoholic, at the most I would have three alcohol drinks in one night. In between those drinks were Coca Colas or bottled water. But the weekends were always a lot of fun. It is just odd to imagine where some friendships sometime develop --- in this case, in a war-torn country where we were all foreigners, but we all share the common bond of being away from our home and family.

I will end the blog with a few more family and travel pictures.

I don't think anyone was expecting the picture being shot. Check out the faces of Grace, Janice, James, or Joyce. Picture from Oct 2004.

In front of Jay & Alvie's house in Gulfport, MS - Sep 2003. I am glad I got to visit them and New Orleans while they were still living there and before Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Train station in Budapest through an ornate metal work window frame - May 2007. The setting was perfect for a sepia-toned picture.

Spices for sale at a market in Nice, France - Jul 2002. The display of spices was colorful, enhanced by the bright baskets and price tags.

The Lincoln Memorial, April 2006. The statue of a seated President Lincoln is enormous and it is elevated from the public viewing level, which adds to its magnificence. The picture at this angle shows a less imposing statue.

And to those who are celebrating birthdays in March: Happy Birthday greetings to Taia, Gavin, Jen, CJ, and Glen. Let me know if I have forgotten to include anyone.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still enjoying your blog. I will send over a picture from Gavin's birthday with the family.