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4 entries from December 2007

Nürnberg. The home of Christmas, Inc.

People talk about the commercialization of Christmas like it was something new. But the silly season has shrunk our wallets for centuries. The custom of wasting huge wads of cash on tasteless kitsch can be traced back to the traditional German Christkindlmarkt.
During advent, wood carvers, wreath-weavers, glass-blowers and seamstresses set up stalls in town squares across Germany to ply seasonal wares. Somebody had the bright idea of throwing spiced wine in a Feuerzangenbowle (a primitive microwave) and selling it to shoppers to fend off the cold. The drunken townsfolk would choose a child, and dress it up as the as the Christmas angel, and get the poor kid to wander around blessing everyone. Or something.
Over time, the cities with the biggest and most beautiful town squares naturally attracted the best and brightest merchants. In Bavaria, that city is Nürnberg.
My brother, headbang9, his wife Pianissima, and my 9 year-old nephew Stretch visited for the Christmas season. Pianissima has a keen eye for traditional housewares, décor, and other finery. Master Right is here for the holidays, too, and like most Japanese, is eager to soak up as much exotic Christmas cheer as he can. Visiting a trad Bavarian Christkindlmarkt sat at the top of our to-do list.

Actually that’s not 100% true. Coming from Australia, the top of Stretch’s list was to have a snowball fight. But he humoured his parents. Besides, he’s into knights and armour and castles (the influence of a Lego-rich childhood) and Nürnberg has plenty.
Ornaments aplenty, too. In the course of advent, shoppers would buy over a 1.8 million of them in Nürnberg. Our immediate goal was to trim the tree at home and find a figurine for a friend’s nativity set. An elephant. It seems that one of the three kings from the orient wasn’t quite so oriental. He was African, and traveled by elephant. We found several nativity elephants, and a large selection of kings from the east, for that matter. Let’s call that theological diversity.
Nürmberg truly charms the visitor. You can feel its scholarly and legal heritage—from the courthouse where the famous war trials were conducted to Europe’s oldest bookshop on the square. We ate lunch at a splendid inn, where I tasted goose for the first time. The old carol which sings about the goose getting fat ain’t wrong; it’s the richest poultry I’ve ever eaten.
Street musicians abound—our favourite was a superb horn quartet from St. Petersberg. At the other end of the musical spectrum, I have never seen so many Santas playing accordion with dogs on their shoulders. Not only is it always the same shoulder, it looks like it’s the same dog.
Nürnberg invites sister cities from around the world to sell their ethnic wares in the international village. Few of these cities come from the Christian world, and their representatives offer almost no Christmas goods. This includes the surprisingly secularized stall from Atlanta—doing a very slow trade in Tootsie Rolls, creamed marshmallow, and Duncan Hines Brownie Mix. God bless America. We left Nüremberg with a swag of ornaments for the tree, a nativity elephant, gingerbread galore, bellies full of mulled wine, and my pockets lighter by about €400. I regard the money as a kind of atheist Kirchsteuer.

A few snaps from the office Christmas party

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15031613/e36e5024-1cef-4153-ba61-fb823250dbb7.png

Dateline New York. The Office Christmas Party 2006. Beer, pizza and DJ in the office foyer. Yeah, it's OK.

Dateline Munich. The Office Christmas Party 2007. Each colleague and his or her partner invited to spend the night at a mountain lodge in the chic Austrian ski-resort of Kitzbuehl. The morning following the party, we can ski out the front door.

Do I miss New York? Let me think about that for a nanosecond...


Where is he gay today? TokyoOn January 1, Germany will outlaw smoking indoors in bars and restaurants. In a typical perverse fashion, the various municipalities which make up metropolitan Tokyo have begun to ban smoking outside.

It kind of makes sense. Japanese streets are crowded. If you've ever stopped at a pedestrian light in Tokyo, you'll know that the throng of impatient salarymen puffing away can create a toxic cloud. From now on, they'll need to duck into a handy bar or restuarant for a quick fag, or saunter up to one of the ventilated outdoor smoking stations, kindly sponsored by Japan Tobacco. JT also provides helpful pro-social messages about how to smoke politely.

That's all very well, but why is he in Tokyo again, I hear you ask? I'm just swinging by on my way home from HK to pick up the lad. We'll travel back to Munich together, for Christmas and new year, and then he'll return to Tokyo to sell the apartment. Thereafter, we'll be able to live together again, at last. I'll also renew my Japanese driver's license, so I can exchange it for a German Fuehrerschein. You can't do that with a New York license, apparently.

It's always a delight to be back in Tokyo; to catch up with old friends, eat some real Japanese food, and arc up the quirkiness quotient of everyday life.
You can boost your karaoke charisma with Cheers! brand vitamin drink. Brought to you by Ajinomoto, inventors of powdered monosodium glutamate.

Somebody need a geography lesson. Or is that a history lesson?

Some friendly neighbours of ours in Oojima.

Taking comfort

Where is he gay today? Hong Kong
Diana Krall sings East of the Sun, West of the Moon on the sound system in a bar in Wan Chai. The track comes from her Look of Love CD. Master Right and I joke that The Look of Love is our number three Desert Island Disc. The first two are slushy jazz as well. Our domestic moments are horribly predictable.

After a long trip and a tough business meeting, the music comforts me. It comes as a shock. I’m comforting myself.

Last summer, I hit the big Five–Oh. At the big forty-nine, I doubt I would have been able to do it.

Certainly not without a quick call to Master Right. He’d do nothing special—we’d speak of small details of our lives; how we slept (a problem for me), what we ate, which of our relatives or friends committed the most amusing outrage against good taste. Ya know. That kinda stuff.

We men are very, very bad at comforting ourselves. We tend to do it with a bottle, a cigarette, a ready sexual tryst or a quiet funk.
Women can teach us men much about how to find a moment of peace. The private sensory rituals, the quiet moments, the easy intimacy. For a woman, a bath is more than a way to get clean—it’s a restoration of her sanity.

In the midst of one of Hong Kong’s most raucous neighbourhoods, it surprises me that I can calm myself with music. I regard it as personal progress. Of course, I hold a drink in my hand, too. Hey, I’m a guy.