Friends, meet Benge Fabrik. Benge Fabrik, meet Friends.

I HAVE A NEW BUSINESS!


I wanted to name my business Gemütlichkeit. 

It's a German word that doesn't translate perfectly well. A dictionary will tell you something like comfy or coziness, but it's more than a physical ease. A gemütlich place is a place where your mind and body experience a graceful and restorative repose.

It's not just the fire in the fireplace, it's the dog in your lap and the boyfriend who gathered the wood and tended the flames. It's not just a warm, candle-lit bubble bath, it's the dear friend who had it waiting for you after a stressful day of travel. It's not just the peace and quiet after the baby has finally succumb to her nap, it's the brief sting of regret as you transfer her warm body from your arms to the crib.

But people can't say "gemütlichkeit", much less spell it. So let me tell you about Benge Fabrik.

"Benge" is my last name. (Obvs.) In addition to that, it is an homage to my father and the example he has provided me in running his own small business, Benge Construction. It is also a means of being able to convince any of my 5 uniquely talented siblings that they are destined to work with me in the future. (Even Tori, whose driver's license says something else now; we know she's still got Benge in her heart.)

"Benge Upholstery" would have been the obvious choice, but I found upholstery to be too restrictive. I will definitely upholster things. I will do other things too.

"Fabrik" is the German word for factory and gives me the freedom to manufacture whatever seems appropriate. It also nods at my adopted German heritage, my respect for the Bauhaus designers, and an appreciation for finding beauty in the functional. 

Also, it looks a hell-of-a-lot like the word "fabric" and since that will be my medium, it'll do.

Benge Fabrik makes hand-made goods for the home.

Here is a list of things I've made:
Pillows
Cushions
Slipcovers
Roman Shades
Drapes
Banquettes
Duvet Covers
Bed Skirts
Placemats
Table Linens

Here is a list of things I've reupholstered:
Armchairs
Dining Room Chairs
Ottomans
Dental Chairs (but never again)

All of this is to say, I have a new business! Did I bury the lede? I'll go back and put that at the top. I'll put it in bold with an exclamation point to make sure you see it.

If you would like to support me in my new business here's a list of things you can do:

1) Check out bengefabrik.com. Make sure to look at the store which just launched yesterday. Email me and tell me what you think of both the site and the store. I'd love your feedback!
2) If you live in San Francisco then join me for my launch party this Sunday from noon to five at 1495 Custer Ave. If you bring a friend I've never met before then you get a free pillow as a thank you gift*. I want to make sure you didn't scroll past this part so I'll use bold and all caps.

FREE PILLOW IF YOU COME TO MY PARTY AND BRING A FRIEND I'VE NEVER MET!

3) Tell your friends! For friends that live in SF, tell them I'm here and I'm ready to make their home gemütlich. For friends that don't live here, tell them I'm selling some bomb ass pillows and they need some. 

It was just over a year ago that I proclaimed via Tiny Letter that I was going to come back to San Fran to start my small business. It's only possible because of people like you who have encouraged and supported me in so many ways. 

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

thank you


I didn't copy and paste those thank you's. I typed them all out. That's how sincere my gratitude is.

Happy Holidays!

XOXO,

C to the L to the Benge to the Fabrik

 

*While supplies last.

 

Thirteen and the NBA Draft and so-called "Fair Competition"

Have you ever played a game where the winner of the last hand gets to go first in the next hand? I always thought that was a pretty stupid system. Going first (often) is an advantage, and the winner doesn't need the advantage. The winner already won.

Whenever I teach friends to play the card game 13 (a.k.a. - Deuces), I always leave that rule out. The way I play it, the player with the lowest card goes first. Because drawing the lowest card sucks and that disadvantage is mitigated by being able to offload it as soon as possible.

***

I started watching professional basketball this year. Last year, I didn't know the Bay Area had a team until the Warriors were in the playoffs; this year, I watched most regular season games and missed only two post season games. (Also, I learned the difference between "regular" and "post season", so... basically I'm an expert now).

After the finals I became interested in the draft system. It's a solution to a problem similar to the one I noticed in the card games.

Here's the problem, as far as I understand it - Winning teams make more money. Teams with more money can buy the better players, so the winning team should just keep winning forever. But if the winning team keeps winning forever, then both the winning and losing teams suffer because nobody wants to watch non-competitive matches over and over.

Everyone loses win the winner keeps winning. And so: the draft. Salary caps and lottery picks and every team has the same budget for player payroll?!? Holy crap. Why didn't anyone tell me the NBA is socialist?

***

I think we can understand our current system of American capitalism as the antithesis of the ideal NBA draft process. It started off as a fair contest (if you were white, male, not Irish, etc...) And a few merited winners emerged early on. But the seasons continued and there was never a draft to equalize resources in the competition. These initial few winners continue to have first pick for every subsequent contest(/generation), stack advantage on advantage, and claim a meritocratic victory when they come out ahead. 

And now we find ourselves in a system where the "Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined." That's 136.7 million American families having less wealth than 1 American family. 

We can't call this victory. We can't call this fair competition. It's time for a draft!

***

Much Love,

C

P.S. - Yay! Tiny Letters are out of retirement! I promise a subsequent one where I tell a bit more about what I've been doing for the last 8 months. Besides fomenting revolution.

P.P.S. - Many thanks to my guest editor, D.J. Bland. He says I need to explain what the draft I'm proposing looks like, but I've got some upholstery work to get to, so it will have to wait. (Also, real talk, I have no idea.)

New Catchphrase, New Keys, and a Request

Thirty-two and still no clue.

It's my new catchphrase.

10 years ago, at 22, I had recently purchased a luxury car. I had a job in which I made a good salary with a company that I liked. I had an apartment. I had health insurance and paid vacation and benefits. It felt satisfying for about 6 months and then, suddenly, I wanted out. I wanted to experience as much as possible and that path didn't seem the best option for fulfilling that desire. That's how I ended up in Switzerland.

And on my way to Switzerland I recall how strange it was to grab for my ever-diminishing key ring. Each piece of metal represented something I had worked hard to gain access to and I was voluntarily forfeiting it bit by bit. By the time I was at the airport my key ring was empty and, thus, useless. I threw it in the trash and laughed at myself for wanting there to be something more ceremonious about it.

I'm proud of that girl. I like her. I try to remember this as I begin the transition back to the U.S. (Monday!) I'm excited. I'm terrified. I'm going to have to acquire a lot of keys and I'm not sure where I'll find them; but I've been keyless a few times at this point. It's always turned out fine. It's never not turned out fine.

The plan, in so far as one of those exists, goes like this:
Tame the wilds of San Francisco and make it my ground.

More concretely:
Attempt to launch my home decor business in San Francisco by mid to late Spring.

Even more concretely:
Make enough money to not be homeless. If not in San Francisco, then just somewhere. 

Short term goals include finding temporary places to stay while I'm acquiring some of these keys. So, this is the "request" part. If you live in the Bay Area and are doing any traveling between now and the end of the year and need a housesitter, keep me in mind. If you have an extra couch and you wouldn't mind me sleeping there for 2 or 3 days, let me know. I'm happy to consider possible upholstery services as trade. I'll be wanting to bulk up my portfolio anyway.

As this is likely my last Tiny Letter before I return there's a part of me that wants to make grand proclamations about what I've learned and how I've grown. But instead I'll channel that 22-year-old at the airport trash can laughing at her desire for a funeral for her key ring.

In this moment it seems that every little thing is sacred and we must invent/imagine profanity because it's the only way we can survive.

I'll see you soon San Francisco. 

XOXO,

Candice

Principles of Furniture Restoration

Principles of Furniture Restoration
(according to Francesca)

 


1) In order to improve a thing, you must lose some.

When working on a very old, very valuable piece it is easy to get frozen in a fear of losing any small part of that piece. Because this wood has been useful for longer than you've been alive. But according to Francesca, this is the first principle. In order to preserve a thing, you must change it. In order to improve it, you will have to let go of something. It might even be a something that you love.

2) Listen to the piece.

Francesca thinks the pieces are people, and in a way they are. Or at least the last synecdoche of someone. They're all pieces that were built by hands that are dead. She once pointed to an armoir that had been a particular headache and said; "The person who makes this. They really, they really don't like me." But even if the piece doesn't like you, you must learn to work with it. Not to argue with its tendency towards anything but a right angle. Not to combat with it's owners who want to remove the excellent original irregular glass plates and replace them with wood. If you listen, the piece will tell you how it wants to continue its life. What fabric, what repairs, what finishes.

3) Let the history stand.

More often than not you will remove every nail and every staple before you begin reassembling. But sometimes you are restoring something that has either never been restored or hasn't been for a very long time. And sometimes you will come across an old kind of nail or tack that doesn't even exist anymore. And when this happens you will remove most of the tacks, but not all of them. And when you come across an antique brand mark, you will not sand it. You will clean it very well, and then you will sand around it. You will ignore your Aristotelian ideals, because to take away evidence of a piece's story is undignified and antithetical to the work of a restorer.

4) Germans make bad materials and Polish men make bad furniture restorers.

Francesca holds these truths to be self evident.


This is all well and good, but none of it gives the answer to where I should live. So for now I'm coming back to the Bay Area where I pray I will find either all open doors or all closed. I don't care which one, as long as it isn't a mixed bag.

So if you're the praying type, pray against the mixed bag for me.

If you're the Bay Area type, I'll see you post November 23rd.

XOXO,

Candice

No Ground, No God

'Whoever has no ground under his feet also has no God.'


These are words from an "Old Believer" according to the Prince according to the narrator according to Dostoevsky. And in the entirety of The Idiot it's these words that have the greatest impact on me.

Is this why I have no God?!?

And by "God," let me clarify, I don't mean the biblical one. I mean, a framework. I mean a grid which I can lay upon reality and use to draw conclusions, build theories, gain understanding. I don't have this. And maybe Doestoevsky is right. Maybe I don't have it because the ground under my feet is always changing.

During my last semester at St. John's I audited a preceptorial (a semester long course on one book) on Einstein's Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. I loved the class, but I won't claim any true understanding of physics. I did (to my surprise and with the help of colleagues) solve the Lorentz transformation, but this was a fluke. I have no real talent or understanding in this field.

What I do have is an intense admiration and fascination and that, coupled with a tendency to search for the poetic, explains my brief and extremely limited foray. I'm writing all of this as I blush, because despite my better judgement, I'm about to tell you about something I think I gleaned this book that was so far out of my reach. I'm rolling my eyes at myself for you, so save yourself the energy!

Alright. Enough apologizing.

One of the things I came to understand from Einstein* was that in order to draw conclusions you have to have a thing to measure against. Of course. Of course. But what Einstein makes so perfectly clear is that no matter what it is you're measuring against it is not a constant. For so long we thought a constant was possible, but we were wrong. There absolutely is no constant, but we have to make one up or we can't do anything!

And perhaps here Dostoevsky is saying the same thing. A man with no ground, no framework is a man with no God, no understanding. Because if you haven't yet chosen a ground, then you can't do any measuring, concluding or building.

Is it a stretch to take this literally? But what else can he be saying? How can one build a life and a self without first choosing a place in which to do that? 

I'm experiencing the excitement now that comes when I believe I'm on the verge of understanding something important, but I can't adequately communicate that thing yet; which of course means I don't adequately understand it yet. So I'll return to the book for a moment. The Prince continues:
 

That is not my phrase. It is the phrase of a merchant, an Old Believer, I met on my travels. True he didn't put it that way, he said: 'Whoever has renounced his native land, has also renounced his God.'
 

How complicated it becomes. First, why does the Prince misquote the merchant? And then, why does the second "correct" version feel false to me?

It must be, at least in part, that in this second version the native land and God are equated with one another. And this is too simplistic for my liking. Too patriotic (gross).  And perhaps also I find it repellent because it contradicts the understanding presented by Einstein. For surely he would say it doesn't matter what the land is, but only that there is a land. It is upon this only that a God is dependent.

I think what I need is a land. A literal place that will become the place I am from. The place upon which I can begin to measure things. And, if I understand Einstein correctly, it doesn't matter which place it is for none is more correct. It only matters that I choose one.

BUT HOW DO I CHOOSE ONE IF IT DOESN'T MATTER WHICH ONE I CHOOSE?

You all are so kind to entertain my musings. I explained part of this dilemma to a friend recently and he encouraged me to choose a place where I am most loved. But there are so many of you! And you're everywhere! What a lucky fuck I am.

Thank you and thank you for being my friends even when I don't have a place.

XOXO,

Candice

*It's impossible to type his name without feeling like a pretentious asshole. Don't you wish you could put that on your resume? "So intelligent that people feel like pretentious assholes merely by typing my name."

The Nitty Gritty

In honor of the almost-3-month-mark, I will finally tell you what I'm actually doing instead of droning on and on about what strange thoughts I happen to be having at the moment. We'll do it German-style.

Places I have been:
Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Köln, Prague, Spreewald, Zürich

Places I would like to go before I leave:
Krakow, somewhere in Belgium where there is beer, Nuremberg (to visit Uwe & Tilman), Greece?

Things I will miss when I leave:
My Facebook, Google, and Spotify ads being in German instead of English

Things I have learned:
how to weave (I took a class)
how to cut wood with terrifying machines (another class)
origami (the internet)
furniture restoration (to be continued) 
how to fake German with a 6 year old (Salome says I should really be taking classes, but they're expensive and I think she's a pretty great teacher.)

How many times I have been sick:
3 (babies = germs)

How many days I've spent more hours in bed than I have out of bed:
Mind your own business

Other things:
If you thought that hanging out with a 5-month-old would slightly assuage my baby fever, YOU WERE VERY WRONG ABOUT THAT.

Penelope is always sad when I pick her up from Kindergarten instead of her mother. The other day I told her that her mother had to stay home because baby Juno might wake up and want die Burst (the breast.) She slapped her hand on my chest, informed me that I also had breasts, and asked why I couldn't feed Juno instead.

It's a pretty good question.

I was in Zürich last weekend where I visited the family I au paired with in 2007. It was strange and magical to come back to a place where I had so many lovely experiences. Myriam (was 5, now is 13) and Julia (was 6 mos, now is 9) have grown into absolutely amazing and astoundingly large humans. Zurich is still as beautiful as ever and Hanna and Sebastian are still some of the most generous people I know. I forgot how lucky I was to have that experience. Or maybe I didn't. Maybe that's why I came to Berlin for some more.

People visiting:
Maurene and Karl are my two favorite customers at Pizzetta 211 (the pizza place I worked at in San Fran). They were here for a little less than a week and on two occasions they treated me to wonderful meals and even better conversation. Seeing familiar faces in foreign places is such a marvelous thing. Which is why I'm excited another San Fran friend will be coming in November. (Yay, Teresa!) She will also bring me cheez-its.

What I will do this weekend:
Kayak tour. Weaving Club. (Yep.) Sauna. (Sauna every week. For my health.)

About my internship:
Two or three days a week I work with an antique furniture restorationist named Francesca. Francesca is a tiny, feisty Italian woman who speaks a mix of German, English & Italian with me. I understand about 70% of it. She says things like: "But Candice, I am real, for my luck you are really nice, but most people in today, they are not so nice. Not so honest, you know? I have really sad you are leaving." I told her that if Donald Trump becomes president that I will come back. She says she will root for him.

What I am doing now:
"Babysitting", which I put in quotes because it involves me sitting on the couch, drinking the wine that Konstantin bought for me as a "sorry you have to work on a Friday night" gift, and making sure no one wakes up. So far, it's the best Friday night on the job I've ever had.


Bis Später!

XOXO,

Candice

The sort of girl that says things like "horrid."

Yesterday, while touring Teufelsberg, I met a British man/boy named Matthew. And twice in the course of an hour or two I used the word "horrid." I don't remember what we were talking about, nor is it important. What I know is that the second time I said the word I realized I was giving Matthew a false impression of myself. Now he will think I'm the sort of girl that says things like "horrid."

I didn't mention this to him, but I did mention that I'd been reading a bunch of Jonathan Franzen all in a row and at the moment I couldn't stop narrating my life in the way I imagined he would narrate it.

I'll give you an example. But first I'll have to explain Teufelsberg.

Teufelsberg (translation: Devil's Mountain) is situated in Grünewald (Green Forest) only six miles from where I live. At one point in time a Nazi military college was being constructed there. It was never completed. Instead it was buried under literal tons of WWII rubble. Tons. Thus forming the mountain that is now there. It is the highest point in Berlin. In the 60's the NSA built an enormous listening station on top of the hill with ET-phone-home-looking white geodesic spheres. The spheres are made of a thick canvas and the lower third has been eaten away by weathering. Now the place is inhabited by young, German graffiti artists (all men) who keep a tight watch on the perimeter, fawn over their kitten, and wear sweatpants with canvas jackets.  For 7 euro they will allow you to enter and pretend to give you an absolutely un-informative tour.

Perhaps you can begin to understand why this day was feeling more like fiction instead of reality. Now for the example.

I was sitting in the highest of these spheres which exhibits the most stunning graffiti I have ever seen and the most intense echo I've ever experienced. The place felt both evil and holy. (Böse is better. Evil and angry. Angry and holy.) I tried to settle as far away from the center as I could, but it is a sphere, so there's only so far you can get. When a fellow tour-taker snapped a photo it sounded like a giant pair of steel scissors cutting through some far inferior material. It was alarming, awe-inspiring, and it made me detest the photographer without any good reason.

Matthew was on this tour with me, but I didn't see him until I was outside of the compound and attempting to navigate to a body of water that seemed to be nearby. "Sprichst du English?" he said; in German even worse than my own.

Poor Matthew couldn't know that he has the same name as my long lost brother. He couldn't know that I had heard the scissors closing in the dome while everyone else whistled and snapped to test their ability to create vibrations. He couldn't know that as we walked along I was seeing the black letters on the white backdrop that either Franzen had already written or that I would try to record in an effort to make sense of this strange feeling I was having. I thought about telling him all these things, but Franzen doesn't ever dive to deep into the meta and I had to stay true to his vision. It was the only metric that was making any sense.

Which is to say, nothing was making any sense; but looking at the world through Franzen-glasses was giving me comfort.

Nowadays, when I meet a new person, I can't seem to find the right version of myself to introduce to them. Even when I'm making an effort not to care what the new person thinks of me, I feel that I'm introducing them to a lie. And I really don't want to be a liar. But when you don't believe any specific truths very strongly, the only way to meet a new person is to create a fiction they can interact with. 

In short, meeting new people has become quite horrid.

Soon I should be out of this phase of moody letters and eventually I'll get around to telling you what I'm doing. (It's a lot! And it's fun!) But for now I have to get ready to go to a dance club. Because apparently the kind of girls that say "horrid" are also the kind of girls that go to dance clubs on a Monday night.

Wish me luck!

XOXO,

Candice

Three thoughts that may seem related if you drink enough wine and squint.

I used to describe San Francisco as my moderately abusive boyfriend. He was so handsome, so even tempered. But he was constantly asking me for money. More and more money. And this, along with a sudden blinding interest in computers, was driving some of my friends who used to also love him away to other places. (Jan. Beth.) And sometimes, late at night, when I was pretty sure he was asleep, I allowed myself to wonder if he was worth it. 

And so I moved to Berlin.

And Berlin is a different sort of boyfriend all together. He's just as handsome and charming, but he's more relaxed. He's into computers, but not obsessed. And not once do I ever wonder if he's worth it. In fact, it's the opposite. I wonder if I'm good enough for him. But he's so good at loving me that all my insecurities quickly melt away. It's a dream come true.

If only he didn't have a strict Vater who forbids our love. (Yes, still no visa.)

Strict fathers have been a theme in my explorations lately. I took a trip to Prague last weekend and re-watched Amadeus after learning it was filmed there. Herr Mozart was very scary. And then I visited the Kafka museum and read Franz's passionate letters to his father in which he simultaneously criticizes his father's expectations and tries to prove he has accomplished them. (And then he dies from tuberculosis.) This week I read Portnoy's Complaint in which Alexander spends hours trying to disentangle his parents' demands from his own busy but unsatisfying sex life. Parents can really do a number, no?

One night as Nele is arguing with me about whether or not NOW is the exact right time to be brushing her teeth, I consider how difficult it must be for a parent to determine just how much strictness is the right amount. As far as parenting goes, Konstantine and Verena are nothing like the figures I've been reading about. Gottseidank. The children are given an extreme amount of liberty and they will undoubtedly develop a healthy suspicion of authority. I support this. I want a child to think critically about the demands that are being placed on him or her. About where those demands are coming from and whether or not they are worth anything. At the same time, I want Nele to brush her teeth NOW, so that she will get to bed on time, and not be a nightmare in the morning when it's time to get to school. Is it too much to ask for both?

I'm nearing my 32nd birthday and I can't decide if the identity crisis I'm having is a late version of the one I was supposed to have when I turned 30 or an early version of the one I'm supposed to have in my mid-40's. What I think about a lot lately is how I've experienced a lot of things, but I haven't made a lot of decisions. I haven't decided I'll do this in this place with this person and raise my kids this way. And many people my age have made these decisions. 

To be sure, I am proud of my unconventional path and would cop to having judged others who have followed more traditional routes. But lately I wonder when exploring becomes a losing game.

I can keep looking for the perfect city and the perfect job and the perfect partner. And I can keep hoping that somehow all three of these things will exist in the same place at the same time. There are enough cities, jobs, and people to last me a hundred lives. Or more! But what good does it do me if I find all of this at the age of 80? Let's assume I'll live to be 90. Wouldn't 55 years of good be better than 10 years of perfect? 

Exploring starts to feel more and more like a glorified version of waiting. And I'm tired of waiting.

Schönheit and Böse and Henry James

"... and it struck him that if he had never done anything very ugly, he had never, on the other hand, done anything particularly beautiful."
The American, Henry James


Here I'll make some observations about the German language, but in an absolutely non-academic way. Nothing said to me in German is ever clear, but lately I find that I have more intuitions about what is being said. Whether this is a better understanding or a more severe misunderstanding is hard to say. I'll record some thoughts all the same.

I thought of my Granny the other day while watching the two older girls squabble over something as they played. Whenever my siblings and I would argue or pester one another Granny would say, "Don't be ugly." I never use "ugly" this way, but I should. It takes the beauty vs. ugliness conversation out of a superficial dimension and places it in a moral one.

(And if only I could include a recording of Granny saying "ugly." She's got a beautiful, deep, and textured voice and when she says the word she lives in it for a minute. It's just scary enough to make you sure you don't want her to ever describe you that way again.)

It seems to me the German language does something similar with the word "schon" (translation: beautiful.) In instances where in English we would say "good" or "nice" the Germans say "schon." 

At some point in my liberal and feminist education I began to view "beauty" as a word with strictly negative connotations. It was a tool that society would use to prevent me from achieving more worthwhile goals. It was a burden. I must constantly strive to be beautiful but not so beautiful that it would look like I was trying. And not just beautiful. I had to simultaneously fight against beauty standards and pretend to ignore them. It's an exhausting word.

But if my actions can be ugly, then they can also be beautiful. And I'm grateful to Granny and the German language for liberating this word for me.

The German word "böse" (translation: evil) has a similarly flexible usage. I learned this last week, once again, while watching the girls argue. Salome was angry because Nele had accidentally scratched her. Salome retaliated by squeezing Nele's leg. I tried to explain to Salome that she didn't have to hurt Nele back. Salome claimed she didn't understand. (In her defense, the english translation of my german explanation would go like this: When Nele makes for you pain, you must not always also pain give back.) Fortunately Verena was around the corner to help us out. When she asked Salome why she had hurt Nele, Salome replied: "Weil Ich böse sind." 

This initially alarmed me because the only way I knew to translate this phrase was "Because I'm evil." And the thought of sweet, darling Salome calling herself evil was very disturbing. Later I learned that "böse" can also be used to describe anger. This made me think of all the things that I consider evil. Let's use ISIS as an example (because the refugee crisis here is all anyone can talk about.) Thinking of ISIS as angry instead of evil serves the dual purpose of humanizing them and making their conflict seemingly easier to solve. Because evil feels other-worldly, mysterious and permanent, but anger is something we all understand. And something that can be changed.

So while beauty has become a bigger word, evil becomes smaller. All in all, not a bad couple of weeks. Additionally, I've reread The American by Henry James because I remembered that I enjoyed it in high school and that it had something to do with an American starting over in Europe. The quote I started with was at least part of the inspiration for these thoughts, so I include it but without further comment; except to say, I hope to do something one day that my Granny would say was beautiful. She's a wise woman and I would be happy if I pleased her.

'Til next time,

Candice

A Weekend in Cologne

Last weekend I spent two days in Cologne. We'll just cut to the good parts.

A boat trip down the Rhine.
A hair cut in a hip part of town.
A self-guided Kolsch tasting involving 7 different Kolsch breweries.
Schnitzel.
A rainstorm that began as soon as I had snuggled into my comfy bed.
Museum Ludwig and lots of feeling of feelings.
A magic sauna man and his magic sauna land.

Less abbreviated:

For some reason my experience in Cologne was that all of the women were exceedingly friendly, even motherly. Perhaps they thought my accent was charming, but they all spoke to me in the kindest (read: simplest) German and smiled so wide every time I made a request and thanked me for coming and wished me a good day and what friendly people there are in Cologne!

Except for the men. The men all seemed old and crotchety and they made German sound even more harsh by scowling at me as they said "Ich bin kein du" (a very crotchety way of saying I should have used the formal "you" instead of the informal). The men should all quit and leave it to the women.

EXCEPT FOR THE SAUNAMEISTER! The Saunameister is, I'm quite certain, from another land all together. Let me tell about him.

If I were to write a Missed Connections ad for the Saunameister it would go like this:

Me - Don't know the German word for "towel." Also, don't know I'm supposed to bring my own towels to the sauna.

You - Incredible ability to interpret insane hand gestures into the word "towel." You give me not one, not two, but three towels. You gesture to a room and I'm not sure this is a direct translation because you spoke quickly, but what I heard was "In four minutes very magical things will happen over there. You should go there."

Me - I will do anything you say. I am forever indebted to you because of these towels.

You - You enter the steamy room of naked people and you place two snowballs on the hot rocks and you pour what I think you said was black johanisberry tea over it and then you wave your towel around in the air AND OH MY GOD WHERE DID YOU LEARN MAGIC?


Okay, perhaps it is misleading to put this in the form of a Missed Connections ad because this wasn't a romantic connection it all. It's just, if you met someone who knew magic, you would want to spend some more time with them right?

I've only been to saunas a few times, and as you can gather, this was by far my best experience. There were so many steam rooms, so many "ruhe" rooms. There was a pond and a garden outside where you could walk around naked as mist fell on your steamy body.

I'm not sure my body has ever felt better in my entire life.

The best part? I came back to Berlin and described this experience to Verena, the mother, and she informs me that this is "ganz normal." All the saunas are like this in Germany.

So fuck my upholstery internship, I'm going to spend my free time going to every German sauna I can get to.

That was Cologne.

XOXO,

Candi
(that's what they call me here)

P.S. - I am actually still working on some kind of upholstery internship. It isn't so easy. The Germans are very suspicious of people who want to work for free.

Menstrual Hijinks and Deutsch als Fremdsprache

Let's talk about menstruation. It will be fun.

For years now I've used the oh-so-horrifically named DivaCup. I absolutely love this product but hate to talk about it because I find the name offensive. I hated the word "diva" even before it was associated with blood falling out of my uterus on a monthly basis. There's something about it that embodies the worst in feminine stereotypes to me. I'm sure spending over a decade pursuing a career in the theater didn't help my associations.

So just know, that every time I type it (ugh) DivaCup, I'm shuddering. Just know that.

What is it? It's a bell-shaped silicone cup that you put in your vagina to catch your menstrual blood. It's a tampon and pad substitute and IT'S SO BRILLIANT! It's also a bit disgusting, because of course you have to take it out and rinse it every so often and get up close and personal with your blood in ways you don't have to when you are using tampons. BUT IT IS STILL BRILLIANT! No leakage. Less trash. Less waste. It also gets a little stained after repeated use. Okay, really stained. Totally normal. Still totally sanitary. STILL TOTALLY BRILLIANT.

I was pretty sure I packed my (ugh) DivaCup, but when it came time for it to be of use I couldn't find it.

(An aside that has nothing to do with the actual story...

The last couple weeks before I left I stayed with friends to save money on rent. When I realized the (bleh) DivaCup was missing I texted the last person I stayed with this: "I so hope you don't find my diva cup anywhere." I sent him a list of other things that I thought I may have left behind and he responded bit by bit and then ended with "Also, where is your diva cup. I don't want anyone BESIDES ME finding it."

This made me laugh. And it's true. Wherever it is, I hope no one finds it ever. It won't be fun.)

Back when Marlon was still here we were on the hunt for a drug store where we could buy, among other things, silver shampoo for my newly blonded hair and a replacement for my (hate) DivaCup. On our way back to my apartment one afternoon we found an Apotheke and went in. Inside the Apotheke was a most severely German man in his mid to late 50's. If you were casting a WWII movie, you would cast this guy as some kind of low-ranking German officer who mostly does paperwork and is very bitter about it. 

Exchange goes something like this:

ME: Hallo. Um, ich suche for eine Tasse. Ich weiß nicht wie sagt man auf Deutsch, aber in Amerika das heißt DivaCup. Kennst du?
GERMAN: Nein. Was macht das?
ME: Um, das ist, das geht wann du, wann gibt's Blut du musst diese Tasse hinein weil... weil... menstruation.
GERMAN: Nein. Wir haben kein.
ME: Ah. Okay. Dann, entschuldigung, hast du Tampons vielleicht?

Rough translation:

ME: Hello. Um, I'm looking for a cup. I don't know what is said in German, but in America it is called DivaCup. Do you know it?
GERMAN: No. What is it?
ME: Um, it is, it goes when you, when there is blood you must put this cup in you because... because... menstruation.
GERMAN: No. We don't have any.
ME: Ah. Okay. Then, excuse me, maybe you have tampons?

Undoubtedly the best part of this whole exchange was having Marlon by my side witnessing my ridiculous hand gestures as I tried to create the shape of the DivaCup in the air and then sort of demonstrate what one does with it. Because surely the combination of my crappy German and my amazing talent for charades would make everything clear to this man, right?

And let us all hope this is the last tiny letter I ever write on the subject. 

XOXO,

CLB

Caveat and Anecdotes

First, let me say, I've put off writing this latest tiny letter despite having ample material. I've realized my trepidation is due to a pressure I feel to say true things. And you guys, I can't even form a decent sentence most of the time. If I have to only write true things I'll never be able to write again. My grasp on truth is fleeting at best. So let this email serve as my caveat. I make no claim to being a soothsayer. What I do, and frequently, is try to say a thing boldly and confidently enough to convince myself it's possible there is some truth in it. Occasionally this works in the short term, but sooner or later I am floundering again. So, let us flounder...

A few anecdotes that fall somewhere on or eat up entirely the spectrum between true and false:

1) My best friend Marlon was here for his 30th birthday and why I failed to mention this until now is further evidence that truthful representations of my experience are not likely. Marlon was the original reason for this trip! We've been planning to go to Berlin since before sweet little Marlon even had a U.S. passport. I found a cheap ticket here and purchased it. And because it seemed cheaper to be on semi-permanent vacation than pay rent in San Francisco, I decided I'd stay awhile. 

For his actual birthday Marlon and I went to Amsterdam where things were just very perfect from start to finish.

Now Marlon is in Paris and I'm back in Berlin. Before Europe returns him he will perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He will then go back to Brooklyn where he will accept a much deserved promotion. He is so good at being 30. I will take lessons from him.

2) On my second night alone in Berlin I went on a self-created pub crawl in a hip area of town. I ended up at a bar that just happened to be hosting a Reddit meet-up, and don't worry, I also have no idea what that is. The consequence, though, was that just as I reached the optimum amount of social lubrication I was among many other expatriates who wanted to chat. So I did that and I realized two things. First, there are going to be people I like and want to know anywhere that I go. Second, every single person I met was in tech somehow. So you can leave San Francisco, but can you? Really?

3) Yesterday I met my sweet German family. Verena and Konstantin are both journalists, although Verena also has her first novel coming out on Friday. Salome is 6 in a few weeks. She is confident and savvy and joyful. Penelope, called Nele for short, is nearly 3 and she is very funny, but you can't laugh when she does funny things because it upsets her. She likes to talk to me but I can hardly understand her so she asks her parents (in German) "Why does she not talk with us and why does she always say "What?") So there you have it. My German is not even as good as a 2 year old's. Felicia is 3.5 months and is big and smiley. Right now she is in a fair amount of pain because of a muscular imbalance. We couldn't find the english word for it, but it is something that starts in the womb that causes one half of the body to be much stronger than the other. This causes lots of tension in her muscles and makes it so that she wants to always be carried. Sleeping is really difficult for her. She will do baby physical therapy exercises and receive homeopathic treatments of some kind and they suspect she will be fully recovered in a couple months. Despite all this, I must say she has quite a sweet disposition.

4) When I first arrived to my new apartment I was alone and trying to exit the foyer into the courtyard. I only have one key to keep track of, so locking and unlocking should be fairly straight forward. Despite this I was really struggling getting this door open and as time went on I wondered what I would do if there was a fire or some other sort of emergency that demanded a swift exit. In a moment of frustration I yanked on the door and it came open. 

The door wasn't locked. It was just heavy. 

Let's not turn this into gospel or anything, okay?

XOXO,

Candice

Keine Ahnung

This is German for "no idea" and this is how I feel about my knowledge of why I am here.

I had my first meltdown on Friday. After spending 6 hours at the visa office on Thursday and then learning that there is almost no way for me to legally stay in Germany past 90 days, I broke down. Everything had been falling into place so perfectly and then suddenly it wasn't and I couldn't handle it.

I think most people would describe me as a "planner." With this trip I made a conscious effort not to over-plan as an experiment. I was very proud of myself until things didn't go my way and then I immediately wanted to give up and go home.

And then I felt strongly that I don't know where my home is, and this made me cry more. 

A sweet, good friend told me that this is what it is to be an adult. To realize you aren't sure where your home is anymore and then to make one. I think he could be right, but then why am I in Germany? I don't plan on making a home here.

A large part of this anxiety has subsided for the moment, but I thought it important to report it as faithfully as I will report my successes. 

Why am I here? When will I go home? Where will my home be? Keine Ahnung.

I hope it will be a good home and I hope it will be informed by my experiences in the next few months. 

- Candice

P.S. - My spirits are better now. I think I have a solution to the visa problem and I move into my apartment today!

I had the best meal of my life and I'm not going to tell you about.

You guys!

Thanks to the inimitable Maie Hatcher I have enjoyed in Copenhagen THE BEST MEAL I HAVE EVER HAD. It was so good and wonderful that to attempt to tell you about it would be foolhardy. The result of this unbelievable food was utter exhaustion as my body and brain had been processing so much stimulation. SO MUCH. I had the best sleep following this experience; no doubt as a result of being overwhelmed by magic food, being entertained by Maie and her traveling companions, and having slept like shit for the last week (thank you 20 hours of sunlight). 

I suppose it would be very rude to not tell you the name of the restaurant, just in case you ever want to have the best eating experience you've ever had. The place is called Geist. That is all I will say. (Lies. I will also say, lobster tartar, suckling pig and crispy friend artichokes, and a dessert with wasabi in it that was.... ugh....so... ugh.)

Since I'm not telling you about that meal I do have time to tell you about my future in Berlin! I have been interviewing with a great family. Three girls aged 6, 3, and 3 mos. I will be their lucky au pair starting August 10th. In the mornings I will help with breakfast and take the two older girls to school. During the day I will be free for the most part and I will hope to find an upholstery internship during these hours. In the late afternoon I will pick up the girls from school and then we will have adventures until dinner time. I'm free after dinner at which point I can take my German classes (or drink German beer, same thing, right?.)

And in addition to getting to do all 3 things I hoped to do in Germany for the exact amount of time I wanted to do them (until December) I get my very own apartment in Mitte! 

I feel unbelievably fortunate that things have fallen into place so quickly, and before I have even arrived. This streak of good luck has made me feel more confident about a decision that I've been unsure about for almost a year. Whether I end up going back to San Francisco or to Texas or to Asheville, I am quite certain the time between now and then will be full and rewarding.

You may now all book your flights to come visit me. You have a free place to stay and a smiling friend to greet you!

Much Love,

Candice

Those are for you

After a longer than necessary over-night train ride (due to missing my stop and having to reroute) I arrived in Copenhagen very early Saturday morning. Since I couldn't check into my AirBnB until later in the afternoon I checked my luggage at the station and headed to the public baths. I spent three beautiful hours swimming and sweating and hot tubbing. I felt strong and clean and relaxed until I emerged from the baths back into the real world where those feelings were replaced with hunger, wooziness, and exhaustion.

With these humors to aid me I began the process of navigating my stupidly large piece of luggage (don't forget, I am moving) around the public transit. I surveyed many kind Danes and was assured numerous times that I could buy my ticket on the bus and no, I did not need exact change. 

Here comes the bus. The bus driver speaks english, just like everyone else. It goes like this:

Me: Hello. You speak english?
BD: Yes.
Me: I'm going 4 stops. Do I give you money?
BD: Yes.
Me: I don't know how much it is. Do you want this? (I show him some paper money)
BD: Do you have any coins?
Me: (with excitement) I do! I have these! (I show him two large, round golden coins that look very ancient).
BD: I will take those.
Me: Oh good. Is this enough? I have more.
BD: Just these. (He hands me 3 very cute silver tokens with holes in them. They look like tiny smashed silver bagels.)
Me: What are these?
BD: These are for you.
Me: Do I give them back to you when I get off? (I assume this must be my proof of payment.)
BD: No.

Now, obviously I don't understand what's happening here, but I've been holding up the bus long enough and this guy is the bus driver. He's a professional. I trust him. I squeeze my huge suitcase down the aisle where two elderly woman start telling me emphatically in English. "You must go back.  You must go back." One of them offers to hold my bag for me. This is how important it is that I go back. I go back. "Press the button. You have to press it." I can't find the button. My hands are touching all sorts of things. None of them are buttons. I keep showing them my tokens and saying "What are these?" and they say "Those are for you." And I think, gee, I mean it would be nice to have a ticket but these cute Danish tokens that were made just for me and so generously given me by the bus driver are also pretty swell. 

Now there is a woman and her son helping me also. "You need your ticket." I hold up my 3 tokens again. "But what are these?" I'm just saying the same thing over and over. And as she begins to say "Those are for you" I finally realize and exclaim with more pride that I should have "Oh! It's money!"

The 3 silver tokens are the change I receive for my large gold coins. It took me an embarrassing and hilarious amount of time to learn this. The bus driver did not give me my ticket because the printer was broken. By the time he had it fixed I was already getting off so it didn't matter.

I would tell you more about Stockholm and about how I have a job and apartment in Berlin already, just no work visa. But this letter is supposed to be tiny. So I tell it another time.

Bye Friends,

Candice

For those who care to know...

I am safely arrived in Stockholm and even though I've now done this sort of traveling several times I'm still shocked that you can get on a plane, try to sleep for more hours than your body desires, and then wake up in a place that is so far away from anyone that has any idea who you are. On top of this, all the people in the new place seem to be doing essentially the same things the people in the old place did. They've just always been here doing it without you because it turns out you aren't necessary for a single goddamn thing. 

A good friend says this insignificance should be cause for optimism. This theory is under investigation.

Stockholm is precious; just like I imagined. I arrived around noon and navigated to my hostel. I don't know how I ever traveled in foreign countries without a smart phone. After checking in and having a fantastic shower I walked around Gamla Stan, the old town. I ate the required meatballs and drank the local beer. My goal was to stay up until 9. I made it to 7:40. 

I woke up at 5:30. I sent an email to a female upholsterer in Berlin that I'm hoping to meet. Today I'll take a historical tour and catch a museum. 

I'll write these short letters when interesting things happen. Some friends and family have scolded me for not being good at staying in touch. So this is for you guys.

Also, thank you San Francisco family for such a sweet send off. The last couple of weeks were so precious to me. I hope one day I'll get on another plane, stay on it for way longer than my body wants, and wake up to your sweet faces.

Best,

Candice