48 posts categorized "I was just thinking"

Ththththth!

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We were at our favourite Greek resturant in Munich, speaking English with our Greek waiter.

"There you are!" he said, as he presented my meal.

"Thank you," I replied.

He smiled.  "It's so nice to hear someone who can pronounce theta. Nobody in Germany can do it."

Of course, he didn't say Germany.  He said "Dzermany".

Flourishing a perfectly-voiced dental fricative, I added. "That's right." 

A gentleman from Barcelona piped up from the next table. "Other languages use theta, too" he corrected us. "Don't be thilly."

"Without doubt," I replied, " but nobody sticks the tip of his tongue up to his front teeth and blows like a Greek or an Englishman."  I basked in the word teeth.

A nearby German  became quite piqued.

"Sagen Sie mal", he asked, "sind Sie Französisch?" Tell me, are you French?

"Nein, ich bin Französisch nicht," came my reply.  No, I'm not French.

Of course, I didn't say ich.  I said "ick".

He sneered.  "Ha!  That was the worst ich I have ever heard.  Your nicht sounded like a chihuahua trying to shit." 

"Harumph" I grumbled, in my best English.

He chortled over his spanakopita.  "Oh, you Englishy types with your thinking and your theories and your thumbs!  But none of you can say ch!" 

I shouted to a Scotsman across the room, easily identified through his kilt and tam o'shanter.  "Hey Jock, wazzup!"

"Och, laddie..." he began.

"That's enough, thank you." I said, and turned back to the German chap.  "See?  English speakers can ach and och like the best of you." 

"You're completely wrong!" he replied, with a directness the world so admires in his countrymen.  "Any one can make a ch when it follows a nice rounded vowel like an ah or an oh.  But not when it follows a delicate sound like an ee or an ih that you actually have to make with your mouth and not your throat already."

He had a point.  One can sound consonants in different ways.  Think of the humble L.  It sounds a bit different when you use it to say line and when you use it to say hall.  This is known as a "light-L" and a "dark-L" respectively.  .

We English native speakers hear the two Ls as the same.  Polish—a fiendishly complex tongue—actually uses separate letters for the two sounds.   Natives of some other languages can struggle with one L, and not the other. 

My husband, whom you may recall is Japanese, has mastered the light-L.  I often hear him say a perfect let's take the lift, with none of the R/L confusion that afflicts speakers with an Asian mother tongue.  Not so the dark-L.  Should you meet him in a hotel, don't ask him where the ballroom is.  Nor should you discuss the movie star, Errol Flynn.  Nor require him to use the word uncontrollable.

Conversely, it's the light-ch that gives us English speakers trouble.  We end up saying ich—a common sound in German—as an ish or an ick.  It mainly occurs at the end of syllables.  Which gave me an idea. 

"OK, Mr. Gescheithosen.  You may think you're pretty smart, with your lippy th at the beginning of words.  So tell me.  What do you enjoy at the end of a hard day?"

"A bath," he replied. 

Except he didn't say bath.  He said "bus". 

"Perhaps you have a particularly nice ride home, so I'll allow that", I said.  "But here comes the clincher.  Say the word clothes...in one syllable!"

"Clozes." he fumed.

Others around him tried to help. "Clothis", interjected a lady from Berlin.  A gent from Schwabing tried "Clodzes".  A fine attempt came from a rural Rosenheimer with a "Clozzess".

Ha!  Our Greek waiter merrily celebrated by putting his tongue up to his incisors and letting out a big "Thththththththth!"   .

I joined him in a jolly "Ththththththththththth!", too.  Soon, all the English speakers in the room pitched in with a nice big, long "Thththththththththththth!".   Except for the Scotsman, who was arguing over his bill. 

 

This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young GermanyServus to you, Nicolette Stewart!


Brexit Explained

Brexit
Where is he gay today?
 A burger joint on Fulham Broadway, London.

Overheard from the next table, a group of men in their early thirties. 

"Of course you got sick.  Can't 'elp it if you travel abroad."

"Mate o' mine reckons you can get sick from just handling the money. It's filthy."

"A lot of them carry their money in in their arse-cracks.  The criminals are so afraid of looking gay, they won't touch another bloke there." 

"They say you should get your cash out of the machine in the morning, put it in your pocket, and jump in the swimming pool."  (Murmured agreement)  "Yeah, the chlorine cleans it right up."

Conversation ends as Spanish waiter arrives at table with lunch. 

No, I'm not making this up. 


The Definition of Sanity

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Peace.  We heard that word a lot over the recent holiday season.   Prayers for it, wishes for it, regret at how little of it seems to abide.  Heavenly peace, peace on earth, the prince of peace, peace to all men, peace was on everybody's lips.

Isn't it ironic that the new year always begins so peacelessly?

That goes double for our otherwise genteel neighbourhood.  A mere 5 doors away from us, we find the Europaplatz; a noble public space which the city government, for one night of the year, surrenders to hammered arsonists with explosives.  They're so drunk, most of them can't even find the place, and begin to blow shit up anywhere handy.  This was the view from our front window at one minute past twelve. 

 

That jars with my customary New Year's resolution.  From the previous sentence, you might conclude that I make the same, unsuccessful resolution every year.  You'd be right.   

My new year's resolution would appear to fit the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein: it's crazy to do the same thing year in, year out, when the only result so far has been failure.  

Personally, I prefer a different definition of insanity: Giving fireworks to drunks.

My usual New Year's resolution aims for an oft-misunderstood state of mind; that is, mindfulness. To be present in the moment, to abandon that which angers, to be thoughtful in word and deed.  To mutter, when needed, Reinhold Niebuhr's famous Serenity Prayer, minus the first word.  

In 2012, I made a binding promise, in public, to be mindful.  Like, with a meme on a website, and everything.  It lasted eight days. 

This year felt different.

An afternoon walk on New Year's day, as always, revealed a the detritus of the night before.  But the sun, low in the sky, cast a light that made the trash, abandoned atop some recent snow, seem almost poignant. 

Detritus footpath

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Detritus whirligig

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Detritus beastmaster
Cars tried, and failed, to keep their dignity under the snow dumped on them.

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Buildings and trees schemed which pals to tag for the Ice-Bucket Challenge.  

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The usually sombre St. George's Church felt quite perky.  Under fresh snow, even their graveyard shines with optimism.

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By the time I reached the Maximiliananslagen, our local park, I was primed for a good mood.  Mind you, the park lifts your mood no matter what.  Its visitors have mastered the very skill I lacked; an unselfconscious ability to hang out, and enjoy simple pleasures. Especially on the sledding hill. 

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Yes, Rover, the yellow snow always smells more interesting, doesn't it?

It was then, I stumbled on an impromptu lesson in being present in the moment.  Three hung-over-looking men decided that the best thing to do this fine day, was grab a few shopping bags, and in an ass-chilling fit of madness, go for a slide.

  

I shall use these men—clearly too old to find joy in anything so childish as losing control of the direction in which their butts are travelling—as my example for 2015. 

This year, the resolution might stick, mildly.  I'll keep you posted.

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Blueskystudio2The first photo is entered in the PhotoFriday Weather challenge.


A Saturday Outing

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These several dozen dicks form a detail from a Keith Haring work, snapped at the Paris City Museum of Modern Art last July.  

I share it in honour of Coming Out Day 2014, which occurs every October 11.   Haring, as you may know, created the first Coming Out Day poster in the late eighties, and it remains an iconic work.

Coming out.  Is that still a thing?   Arguably, notwithstanding a rocky start, communities in the bourgeois West found diverse sexualities relatively easy to accept over the last half-century—easier, perhaps, than accepting the full implications of gender, race or economic equality.    

In our highly connected age, when we fight to keep the details of our private lives private, a public declaration of what gets our rocks off feels a little risky.  Maybe even déclassé.  

But we should ask ourselves if this reluctance is a matter of being discreet, or ashamed. Coming out day

Nice people don't talk about what goes on behind their bedroom doors.  So much of gay politics has concerned itself with making sure that bedroom door opens into a highly mortgaged house protected from estate duties through marriage.  Have we forgotten we have sex?

Over the last decades, coming out has focused on the social aspects of sexuality—marriage, money, personal safety, and community.  We want to weave our parners into the fabric of our economic and family life, whatever form that takes.  And for that to happen, revealing your orientation is a necessity.  Nobody knows it better than my husband and me. 

But coming out has a personal dimension.  Part of that personal dimension is erotic.  

When I came out, it meant more than just being able to bring a bloke to a dinner party.  Someone had given me a licence to find the world an erotically-charged place.  I ogled, I slobbered, I saw immense beauty in the men around me.  I found it easier to keep all this arousal respectful if I could actually talk about it, in a relaxed way, with anybody in earshot.  Still do. 

If you find talking about sex tacky, tough.  Jane Austen didn't write the queer script, pal. 

Revealing a sexless sexuality is pointless.  To stay schtum about the erotic side of our queerness doesn't make the world a freer, more open, more humane place.  It just announces that we're willing to conform to Puritan expectations.  It's just another closet.

All I can say is that coming out—even as late in life as me—did this bloke a power o' good.  Dammit, I could be horny anyplace I damn well pleased.  I loved talking about sex, and I loved hearing about sex.  My repartee began to sound like a gay Carry-On movie, if that's not a tautology.  The smutty banter was authentic.  All that applies today, too.  

To queers everywhere, enjoy mental health.  Coming out is a Mood Gym.

If you're in a safe place to do so, today is the day to tell the world where your libido points you. Lots of people, in many parts of the world, don't have that luxury.


English on the March: Push-Up

Push-Up Bra
Over recent months, this subway ad has tittilated many a Munich gentleman—and not a few ladies, for that matter. 

Immune to feminine charm as I am, one might think this fine display would hold scant interest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It wasn't the breasts that caught my attention. 

Don't get me wrong, I like breasts well enough, for a piece of anatomy. The breast ranks between the earlobe and the frenulum as an interesting bodily quirk.  What's more, you can pierce any of those three for added entertainment value. 

No, the fascination lies in the language.  A scant two words of copy—five if you count their component parts—ply some remarkable English. 

Pecta super protrudo

First, let's not count the word super as English.  You bookish types know that super is Latin for above.   Likely it came into English through Norman French, and into German through French French. 

Super makes itself equally at home in both languages.  And a good thing, too.  It's easy to invent new words to say how awful things can get—in German, these expressions contain the word scheiß as a grammatical requirement.  But to find a new word to say something good...well, our languages have to work at it.  

According to LEO, that fast source for all things deutschsprachig, most of the synonyms for super have to do with being on top or sticking out.  For example, spitze (peak), prima, or the futzy hervoraggend  (literally, protrude forth).  Other expressions refer, disquietingly, to annihilation; todschick (deathly chic) or bombig (bomby). 

English synonyms for super tend to be a bit more abstract (excellent, awsome, or phat—for pretty hot and tempting).  Slang often employs irony (bad, wicked)*.  Failing that, we opt for the more literally violent—smashing, belting, kick-ass—rather than the deadly.  It feels less über.

To see super in a German language ad raises scarcely an English-speaking eyebrow.  Not so push-up bra.

Brassiere Sincere

Hang on a minute.  Alert readers will have noticed the absence of the word bra.  That part is in German.  The letters BH stand for Büstenhalter, or breast-holder.  

Many authoritative sources, such as the makers of Trivial Pursuit, hold German count Otto von Titzling responsible for the first modern bra.  Bollocks.  That's an urban legend.  Everyone knows that the brassiere was invented in 1862 by British aristocrat Lord Booby for his amply-endowed Argentine mistress, Countess Gazonga, during a tryst in Bristol.  

(By the way, as I was googling researching this post, I discovered the German word for a nursing bra is a Still-BH, or distillation bra.  How splendid to live in a nation of scientists!)

A Word Under Pressure

The real curiosity on this poster is the word push-up

The Honourable Husband's First Rule of Odd Foreign English is that no language borrows an English word just to sound cool—the language has to need it. 

Why would German need a word so basic as push-up?  Surely there is a simple German equivalent for the phrase. 

I tried to think of it.

Aufdruck, the literal translation, means engraved printing.  Hochdruck ("high push") means high pressure, especially blood pressure.  Oberdruck would mean to print a second time on top if the first printing. An Ausdruck is a print-out—and ausdrücken can also mean to express yourself.  The literal word for above, oben, is seldom used as an adjective: we usually usually hear nach oben, or "toward above". 

Dammit.  Everything's taken.

The humble German pushdrücken—works awfully hard.   In English, we use a set of several words for related concepts—press, print, push, pressure.  In German, one word does the lot.  We see it everywhere.

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Drücken used as "push", on the doors of a Frikadellensemmelkönig

Your computer printer is a drucker.  If your boss hassles you about a deadline, you're unter druck.  To give someone a hug is to drücken them.  To beat someone down, or oppress them, is to drücken them.  In a game of dodge-ball, one would drücken the Kugel.  We drücken our toothpaste onto a brush.  The German expression for let 'er rip is to drücken it out the tube.  No wonder a modern German speaker is loathe to burden poor druck any further.  

Here's an example how to tiptoe around druck.  The word for push-up, when it refers to an exercise, can take two forms.  The first is der Liegenstütz, which kinda sorta hints at being horizontal and supporting yourself.  The other is der Einstichboden, which subliminally tells us that one should be stinging, or puncturing, the floor.  Thus, we deftly avoid yet another stretch of the druck

Der Volkische Push-Up BH

The need to borrow the word push-up for a bra becomes becomes clearer when one looks at German—and especially Bavarian—folk costume.  Women in Germany have pushed-up their assets for centuries.  But they did it with dresses, rather than undergarments. 

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A bit of German stereotyping, found at a Russian bus stop.

Why do you need a silly old bra to überboob yourself, when the DIY solution has worked since forever?  A push-up bra feels like a foreign affectation.  Better to use a foreign name for it.

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* "Slang often employs irony."  Hey, have I turned into a pompous ass, or what?


SKRABBEL®

SCRABBLE® in German is no fun extremely challenging.

In English, we can add a sneaky "-s", or "-ed" to build on someone else's work, and cream the points off their letters.   Wordy types scowl when they learn that the game is not won by the player with the biggest vocabulary, but by the player with the most rat cunning. 

Scrabble auf deutschWhen you try the standard SCRABBLE® tricks in German, you come a cropper.  For example, to turn "stop" into "stopped", German turns halten into hielten.  Letters change in the middle; verbs and plurals are the biggest culprits.

Further, words in German simply need more characters.  Compare work and Arbeit, ham and Schinken, I and ich—the list never ends.  I sometimes write in English for translation into German. The rule of thumb is that the character count will go up by 15%, or more.

Maybe German SCRABBLE® would work better if the board were bigger, and the bag held more tiles.   It fascinated me to discover that until 1990, this was the case.   The letter-count stood nearly 20% higher than in the English version, at 119 tiles.   Players drew eight per turn, as opposed to seven in English. 

The makers throw in a few extra S's—seven, versus four in English.  We need them.  German crossword games substitute an SS for an ß, or Eszett.  You can't begin a word with an ß, and to use it would limit the word-crossing possibilities.  (Interestingly, the game designers deliberately limit the number of S's in English, lest point-stealing through guerilla plurals make the game too easy.)

The German edition holds half as many Y's, though.  The Ypsilon occurs rarely, mainly in foreign words.   One wonders if, statistically, the German game should have a Y at all.

Such issues would have entranced the inventor of SCRABBLE®, a detail-obsessed architect fascinated by structures and mathematical interdependencies.   Alfred Mosher Butts—surely Buttress would have been a better name for an architect, no?—studied the front page of the New York Times to work out which letters occured most frequently.   Amazingly, the distribution remains valid, in spite of our changes in speech.  

Mind you, English spelling never changes.  It already had fuck all to do with the way we speak when Butt invented his game in the 1930s, and we've made no progress since.   The useless "gh" construction persists.  "-mb" hangs off the ass of too many words.   And guessing how any given vowel might sound, is a crapshoot. 

Ed Rondthaler made letters his business for almost a century.  Here, he explains why we use them stupidly.

The inscruitable yin of English spelling complements the strict yang of the game.  It succeeds in spite of English spelling insanity.

We might ask if SCRABBLE® better suits languages which have no spelling at all—iconic languages, such as Japanese or Chinese. 

I have written about the time when I tried to teach my ever patient husband, whose native tongue is Japanese, how to play in English.  It was not a success. 

Sudoku shows that while number-based "crossword" games work across cultures, word-based games will not.  Chinese SCRABBLE® would require several thousand tiles, and sentences would intersect rather than words. 

In Japanese Scrabble, the tiles would need to take two different forms, for words and grammatical particles, some representing sounds and some representing more.   One wonders if Mattel (the licensees of the game in Asia) might not experiment with a Hiragana-only version.

But then, at least half of the tiles would need to say desu.  Scratch that idea.


The World's Worst Buddhist

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The Daibutsu (Amida Buddha) at Kamakura, near Yokohama, in April 2004.
He looks in a pensive mood, which isn't very Buddhist of him.

If you must have a religion, Buddhism strikes me as a good idea.  By all accounts, it tries to unite the spiritual and the temporal, in a healthy way. 

Should one need the solace of prayer, one could do worse than meditate; meditation is prayer turned inward, rather than upward.  Regular meditation can increase physical and mental well-being.

Buddhist meditation focuses you on yourself, your mind and body.  Is this selfish?  Not at all.  In theory, such deep understanding of one's own being fosters both compassion toward others, and self-reliance.  

(All this compassion doesn't keep you from being a sexist creep, from time to time.  The Dalai Lama maintains that a woman might well become his successor—but she's gotta be a looker, since appearances count.)

So, without wishing to trade-in my broad-church atheism for an actual religion or nuttin', I took Buddhism out for a spin.  Not the whole thing, but a couple of Buddhist precepts.  January was to be a month of ditthi, viewing reality as it really is, not as we wish it to be, and sati, seeing things for what they are with clear consciousness and a sense of truth, as well as being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any cravings for more, nor distatste for what you have.  

IlovesmallstonesA meme piqued me to do it.  Buddhist priest and therapist Kaspalita, along with writer Fiona Robyn, declared that January 2012 become a River of Stones.  Each day, they encouraged readers of their website to write a small stone.  In their words, a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully engaged moment.  If you read their work, you'll discover that the stones they write, are true gems.

Just what the doctor ordered.  Therapists and support groups tell me that a family like mine—where children were served generous helpings of emotional torture sprinkled with little jimmies of violence—will create adults with a distinct quality of mind.  We have trouble engaging in the moment.  Disengagement with the moment, after all, was once a tool of psychological survival.  The habit dies hard.

Kill it, though, I must.  So I set up a Tumblr for my River of Stones, and dubbed it Der Fluß aus Steinen.  Alert readers will have noticed a link to it on the sidebar.  Readers may notice, too, that it no longer appears.  I lasted eight days. 

It started smoothly enough.  I resolved to capture each stone in a photo, and write of it later.  On January 1, a Christmas three atop a crane on the Odeonsplatz caught my eye.  I imagined that the presents underneath would be Erector Sets for all the little cranes to enjoy.  Maybe Erector Sets were the crane equivalent of toy soldiers, or Barbie.  So far, so good.  Step one on the road to enlightenment.

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Eight days later, I cast a pair of weary eyes around the office.  Mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, a full pencil sharpener loomed into view.   Should one iron the shavings, to improve the feng shui and attract positive chi, I wondered?   Not exactly On Walden Pond.

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And so, mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, I gave up.

I could never get the hang of these little moments of exquisite, poetic sensibility.  They're all terribly nice, but so what?  

Let's give it another go, right now.  Around me, I notice a number of things in the room where I sit.  It is a living room.  The prints on the wall hang slightly crooked; maybe they leaned together for a furtive smooch, and hastily composed themselves as I walked by.  

These pictures in mild disarray remind me of a Casanova caught in flagrante, who must dress fast to escape.  One could do a 5-7-5 haiku about that.

A lover revealed. 
He is not quite complete.
His socks took too long.

Talk about unmindfulness!  Not only did I fail to describe what sits in plain view, but I leapt to another, more interesting story, the likes of which I've never experienced in person.  (Call me a coward, I always hid naked in the wardrobe.) 

I chose imagination over observation.  Bad Buddhist!

Haiku purists take a dim view of all this metaphor and narrative.   High haiku must adhere to a strict rhythm—it needn't rhyme, because given Japanese grammar and phonology, rhyming would be too easy to be considered artful.  And it must stick to what the poet sees and hears. 

Matsuo Basho wrote arguably Japan's most famous haiku in 1686.  There have been hundreds of translations of these seventeen simple syllables.  Plainly put, the poem states there is a peaceful old pond, a frog jumps in and makes a splash. 

Call me a philistine.  Call me obtuse.  But...I don't get it. 

My Japanese friends (and my husband, to boot) assure me that I am missing a great source of artistic satisfaction, not to mention the serenity which comes from contemplating a moment of exquisite beauty.  Well, yeah.

I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, imagination provides both diversion and solace.  A certain amount of inserenity can pump you up, just as much as a good whiff of chi.    But you have to dodge a trap—living too comfortably in your imagination, rather than seeking comfort on the panet Earth.  Perhaps that's a discussion for another time.


Wealthy, but Why?

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Diamond dominoes, in a jeweller's window on the Maximiilanstraße.
They won't leave you much change out of €20,000

Europe, bless us, is in technical recession, and it looks to get worse.  But—touch HolzGermany seems to be doing OK under the circumstances .  (Probably because Germany pretty much engineered those circumstances in the first place.)

When Germany does OK, Munich does very well indeed.  On a GDP-per-head basis, Munich ranks up there with bank-boated towns like Frankfurt. 

The average Münchener contributes 60% more to the Volkswirtschaft than his Hamburg or Berlin counterpart.  If the stats counted toney exurbs like Starnberg, the difference would prove greater, for sure.

Though Munich houses a modest million or so inhabitants, it is a city of corporate titans.  Alliance, Siemens, BMW, M*A*N, Airbus and scores of others are based here, with many more in nearby smaller Bavarian cities.  A brace of multinationals make Munich their regional HQs—McDonald's prominent among them.  Tech start-ups and media companies, as well as both Apple and Microsoft, operate out of the city.  A mammoth airport, a lively academic community, a refined arts scene, and an enviable sub-alpine lifestyle attract them.

But there's one curious fact.

Looking at the figures in the Wikipedia link above, why do Milan and Vienna do so well?  Not only does the average Milanese account for almost twice as much wealth than a Münchener does, he generates more than a Londoner, New Yorker or Tokyoite. And a Viennese does surprisingly well, too.

What gives?  I have my theories, but none explain why a Viennese should pump seventy-one thousand bucks in to the Austrian economy every year, when a New Yorker pushes only sixty-six through America.   Has it something to do with creative-class entrepeneurs?—A San Franciscan outperforms his counterparts in London and New York, but curiously, not Washington DC.  None of them match Milan, though, whose citizens are responsible for a whopping $88,000 of wealth each, last year.  That's a lot of shoes and handbags. Armchair economists, go wild in the comments.

Munich may not be qute as rich as some of its bigger counterparts, but it hasn't yet needed to pawn the silverware.  You might find those dominoes on eBay, soon, though.