Thursday, February 28, 2013

The New Old Look of I Must Be Off!

Hi, pretty IMBO reader. If you're reading this, you'll have noticed that I Must Be Off! is old school again. The reason for this is that the Blogger Dynamic template was causing problems. Many readers were finding it difficult to comment, and I myself noticed that the posts were cut off at the bottom by the homepage pictures--on any computer around the world that I viewed the blog on. Since Blogger hasn't offered any explanation for this, I've gone back to the Standard view. This means that I Must Be Off! will not be very snazzy for a while.

Going back to the Old School Standard View, though, has its benefits. Now, some features are visible that are invisible or difficult to find with the Dynamic View (the one where the blog looks like a mosaic of pictures): 
  • The link to Conversations with S. Teri O'Type at Goodreads up there on the right î
  • The pages containing my published stories, etc.
  • The Networkblogs 'Join this site' feature (You're invited!)
  • The Google Friends Connect 'Join this site' feature (Yes, you're invited too!)
  • Links to my favorite Writers' sites
  • Links to my favorite Litzines
There are also a couple of new features at the ends of posts. The 'You might also like' links show you other posts that are similar to the one you've just read. This feature doesn't show up in the Dynamic View.

So we lose some things and we gain a lot of things. That's how life is. One thing I've lost since going back to the Standard View is around 300 readers a day. I'm wondering how much the look of the site affects traffic. What is your experience? I'm very interested in knowing what works for you.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle. 

  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Expat Author Interview with Ethel Rohan

Author Ethel Rohan
Ethel Rohan, originally from Dublin, now lives in San Francisco. She's the author of Hard to Say (PANK) and Cut Through the Bone (Dark Sky Books), both critically acclaimed. Rohan also has work forthcoming in the spring issues of Arroyo Literary Review and Post Road Magazine and a collection of short-short stories, Goodnight Nobody, forthcoming from Queen's Ferry Press in September 2013. 

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IMBO: Ethel, Welcome to I Must Be Off! I'm a fan of your writing. Tell us a childhood memory, something formative.  

Primary School, Remedial Classes
ROHAN: Thank you. As a child I struggled with learning differences and for years attended what in Dublin we called "remedial classes" taught by an elderly nun, Sister Gerethie. Luckily, despite Sister Gerethie's hunchback, walking cane, and black garb, she didn't succumb to the stereotype and I remember her fondly. My challenges to read and write were never diagnosed, that I know of, and to this day I'm not sure if my difficulties were cognitive or emotional (I'm a survivor of childhood abuse). The memory of the struggle, though, remains like a bird on my shoulder that every now and again pecks at me. On one hand, I'm proud and frankly astonished that I've grown from that girl who jumbled text to, of all things, a writer, and on the other hand the insecurities around feeling stupid still burn and I worry that, as a writer, I couldn't possibly be in the right place. 

IMBO: Thank you for sharing that, Ethel. You've said on your own site that having Hard to Say (PANK, available on Kindle) out there in the world was a struggle between your desire to write "as honest as possible" and your urge to hide these stories from people they might hurt. When I began writing the story of my own sexual abuse, I called my mother to let her know. "The mother in the story is culpable," I said. "Just use me any way you need to," she said, "but write that book." Yet another writer, whom I respect greatly, once told me, "Your story is your own, but you don't get to write other people's stories." My question, Ethel, is where does my story end and someone else's begin? And how do you feel about this?

ROHAN: I'm sorry, Chris, we have that shared history. Your mother's reaction, "Just use me any way you need to," is exceptional. I would not have gotten my parents' or siblings' blessing to write Hard to Say and I'm sympathetic to that, but, yes, I finally came to terms some time ago with the realization that my story and my struggles are mine to tell.

In childhood, I was sexually abused by a man outside our family. Because of my confusion, fear, and shame around the sexual abuse, and because our family was already broken by my mother's psychosis (she was a paranoid schizophrenic), I felt this huge pressure and responsibility to remain silent and not add to our family's, and in particular my father's, pain.  

In adulthood, my silence around my story of sexual and physical abuse was hurting me and I reached a point in my life and in my writing where I wanted to be done with silence and with hurting. I wanted my voice back. I also wanted the stories out of me so as to clear space for new stories. I'm not married to my past and my pain. I'm willing to give them up. Writing Hard to Say was a form of my giving up the stories that choked me. Let me be clear: Hard to Say is a tiny collection of linked facts, truths, fictions, and fabrications. They are also the most candid and painful set of stories about myself and my family that I have ever written. But the characters are not me or my family, they are collages hacked together by my open wounds, skewed perspective, twisted imagination, and faulty memory.

As for where does my story begin and another person's end? I don't know. I think that's up to the storyteller to decide. A writer's motivation will determine a lot. Our intentions in the telling must be pure and empathetic. They must be an honest search. Otherwise we are going to do damage. Why write to do damage?  
  
IMBO: I agree. When did you first feel like a writer and what was the first story you published?

ROHAN: My first meaningful memories of writing are from when I was about 14. By that time, I no longer struggled with reading and writing and was an honor student in most subjects. My English teacher, her freckled face shrunken with worry, asked me to step outside the classroom. I supposed I was in trouble again (I sometimes liked to play at class comedian and prankster), but she wanted to discuss the short story I'd turned in. I hadn't written to the required topic, she told me in her rich baritone, and because of that she'd graded my story a 'C'. She said she loved the story, though, and that it pained her to penalize the work. I could see the upset in her eyes and face, like she'd an ache somewhere in her head, and I returned to the classroom stunned: It was the first time I'd ever felt I was good, really good, at anything. Most importantly, it was the first time I’d ever felt anyone cared I was good, really good, at anything.


The first story I published was from maybe 12 years ago with an online Irish magazine, Electric Acorn, a magazine that's sadly long since defunct. The story, titled "The Auld Triangle," was about two male characters from working class northside Dublin, Aidan Ivers and Charlie Owens. I wrote a terrible novel about those two young men over a decade ago and they still haunt me. Aidan and Charlie appear in the opening story, "Major Drill," in my forthcoming collection, Goodnight Nobody. The story was first published by World Literature Today last year and readers really seemed to like it. Hmmm, maybe I need to revisit that novel...

IMBO: It's so hard to look back at projects that have lain dormant for so long. What do you expect to find when/if you return to Aidan and Charlie?

ROHAN: Ha! I think there’d be a lot of cringing. In revision, I have to police myself for overwriting, so this novel would be filled with the overwrought because as a rookie I didn’t see how my work overreached. The tattered manuscript would also be cluttered with details and description, something else I did in my early writing. I’d still like to go back and read the ms, though, because of the characters and all their inglorious flaws and failings and because back then I wasn’t worried about rules and getting the work “right,” I was just writing, letting all the ideas, characters, action, and prose spill. Back then, the work did runneth over. Now, I have to go drilling.    

"I only truly became happy here in America when I let go of the idea of my separateness and instead embraced my sameness."
_________________
IMBO: I know that feeling. Do you ever work with prompts? How do you pry the stories out these days?

ROHAN: I'm lucky, Chris, in that I don't suffer writer's block, if I even know quite what that is. Some days the writing just comes easier and better than others, but I never feel blocked or that I can't write. I dismissed the use of prompts for a long time, preferring to start off my stories from a character's voice, but I've grown to enjoy prompts a great deal and find them excellent springboards for stories. Prompts have a powerful way of tapping into our subconscious and drawing out gems.

IMBO: It is somehow miraculous how a few random words can dig so deep.

ROHAN: But the danger, I think, with prompts is that the writer can become too attached e.g. I've used the 'five words' writing prompt a good deal, but find in revision that some or all of the very words that got me to my story may need to be removed for the story to be its best. I think this is true of all prompts and the very impetus that gets us into a story may, in the final revision, need to be cut.  

IMBO: And that's OK, I think. They did their job, right? OK, so tell us about where you were born and how this place is portrayed in your writing.

Ethel Rohan's Childhood Home
ROHAN: I was born in Phibsboro, a working class neighborhood that's close to Dublin's inner city. My earlier work was always about Dublin, and in particular the northside neighborhoods much like my own. While Dublin, and Ireland in general, feature less in my work the longer I live in the States, my Irishness, my Dublinness, are always at the heart of my work: in its rawness, ugliness, and misery, and in all of those opposites too. Despite what was sometimes a brutal childhood, I'm fierce about my family and country and they, even without my trying, always infuse my stories.  

IMBO: In an Irish Times article co-written with Sarah Griffin, you say, "Emigrants have to let go of any sense of preciousness around having a single identity." Could you speak a bit more about this?

ROHAN: Too many immigrants have an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality and live with a divided heart, always seeing their mother country as home and their adopted country as the other. I only truly became happy here in America when I let go of the idea of my separateness and instead embraced my sameness. I also let go of the idea that my Irish values and culture were “better” than American values and culture. Now, I celebrate and try to live by the best of both cultures and value systems.

IMBO: Have you ever experienced culture shock?


ROHAN: When I first arrived in San Francisco, I believed the move was temporary. I planned to stay through the three months of summer and then return to Ireland, at which point I believed I'd have stayed away long enough to gain enough emotional distance from my abusive boyfriend, allowing us to stay split-up and well away from each other. I also believed three months was a respectable enough sojourn to allow me return home without shame and embarrassment, having shown everyone I was indeed a wild adventurer and that when I had said I was leaving, I had meant it, dammit. Three months became six became twelve. Yes, I was homesick and I very much felt Americans were the weird, loud, overly familiar and, dare I admit, obnoxious, other. I told myself I wasn't staying, that the move was temporary, that I was going back "home." Then one year became two became three. I met my now husband just six months after I arrived, and he and the large, rocking Irish community here were a huge draw and I kept staying. My husband, the city itself, and then slowly, finally, the American people anchored me here.

IMBO: I know what you mean about "loud, overly familiar and . . . obnoxious." We do have that reputation. I've lived in Germany for 18 years and am all too aware of how loudly Americans talk. We do tend to project and smile too much. But what changed? What made you warm to us? Tell me you've become a bit louder and obnoxious too, please.

"Individual by individual is what changed and broke down America, and specifically San Francisco, for me."
__________________

ROHAN: I’ll let others decide if I’ve become louder and obnoxious. I know I’ve gained a little wisdom along the way. It wasn’t just the sounds of San Francisco that were so startling at first, but also the sights. The diversity of San Francisco was initially shocking. All these different people of color and creed and identity. I was twenty-two when I moved to America and up until that point I’d only ever met a handful of people of color and had never met anyone who was openly LGBT. Hell, I couldn’t even cope at first with how often and effortlessly people told each other “I love you.” It was disturbing. Yes, San Francisco, after repressed Ireland, was like stepping into a tub of hot water. I’ve acclimated very, very well and remain grateful that my ignorance, prejudices, and complacency got kicked so hard. Individual by individual is what changed and broke down America, and specifically San Francisco, for me. One by one, each person I came to know and care about dispelled my biases and preconceived notions. I've come to love San Francisco and its people and feel blessed that I get to extract and live by the best from both cultures.

IMBO: Turning now to a recent story, "Skirt," in the current issue of Connotation Press. Well, there are actually three stories here. I like how Noreen, in "Dying Juices" sums up what I see as the thread through these narratives: "I'm just saying what I'm thinking." As do Gary and Dad in the other two stories. Is honesty--saying what you're thinking--a theme that binds here?

ROHAN: Maybe I was subconsciously subversive in these stories. One thing the Irish are not good at is saying what they’re thinking or feeling, at least not on any issues of import. The Irish can be honest to the point of cruelty and cloaked to the point of ridiculous, but this is usually around trivial matters. Despite enormous growth in the past couple of decades, the Irish remain a reticent race and saying anything about anything that matters, especially matters of the heart, is something we too often turn away from.


IMBO: The Irish sound a lot like Southerners in the US! Finally, Ethel, I always ask the author to share the work of another expat author and tell us, if you want, a bit about his/her work.

ROHAN: Well, she hardly needs any introduction, but Yiyun Li comes immediately to mind. Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. She lives in the Bay Area and I’m fortunate enough to have crossed paths with her several times here in San Francisco and also once at the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival in Ireland. She’s masterful and her fiction is extraordinary. Read more about her here. Read her heartrending personal essay (which the wonderful Kyle Minor introduced me to) here.  

IMBO: Thank you so much for this interview, Ethel. It has been grand getting to know you and your stories better.  

Buy the Kindle version of Hard to Say HERE. And watch for Goodnight Nobody forthcoming from Queen's Ferry Press.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire)


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February -- Day 5

Playa de Mellorca in winter
It's our last day on Mallorca and we're feeling nostalgic. Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor is lying on the bed, flipping through pictures of the hikes. "Remember the rocks?" he says. "And the rocks?"
Despite the fact that it's Herbie's job to choose the route, he hasn't even unfolded his bed-sized map of Mallorca. His hiking book is on top of the TV, his hiking boots are near the door--and he's teary.. He keeps mouthing the rocks, the rocks, the rocks over and over again.






"Snap out of it, Herb! We have to leave soon if we're going to be on a trail by ten." I hate to flex my organizational muscles, but I can if I have to. Herbie, see, is still flipping through pictures of rocks--Mallorca is essentially a big pile of them--and weeping. Venezuelans are such sentimental saps.

"We're not hiking today," he sniffs.

"Well, when were you going to tell me this?"

"We are going to walk on the beach," he says.

"I see. With our legs?"

"Yes, of course with our legs. Shall we fly?"

"And with our shoes on?"

"Yes."

"For, like, hours?"

"Yes."

"And at a fairly brisk pace probably, huh?"

"Yes."

"That's hiking."

"There will be cafés with white wine within 100 meters the entire time."

"That's heaven."

The infamous Ballerman Sechs -- not so wild in winter
And so we set out on our beach hike. Ballerman, the Playa de Palma, is usually overrun with slightly overweight, midlife-crisis-having partiers, but since it's February there's not so many of these lovely, tragic characters. All the strip clubs are closed for the winter anyway. That siad, we were accosted by three extremely aggressive prostitutes on our way back from the Bierkönig, a popular bar amongst the slightly overweight, midlife-crisis-having set. There is this very sad side of Mallorca's nightlife: the aggressive prostitutes, not the Bierkönig, which is actually a lot of fun if you understand the silly lyrics to the German Schlager songs. .

During the day in February, Playa de Palma is peopled with retirees, hanging around and enjoying the peace and quiet that winter offers. But there are also cyclists--thousands of them.

For Kim

Also for Kim

After walking the length of Playa de Palma and back, we have a sit-down at the Pabisa Beach Club where I sing with every song and expect Herbie to threaten to kill me unless I stop--but he's reading the newspaper. I get a bit teary when one of my top-ten favorite songs comes on. Here it is live with Neil Finn singing a bit pitchy at times, but this song kills me:




(The official music video)

The lyric "It doesn't pay to make predictions/Sleeping on an unmade bed/Finding out wherever there is comfort there is pain." crushes me every time.

All weepy and wined, we go shopping. Give me a break. I need new clothes, and Spain is always cheaper than Germany. For what it's worth, we do quite a bit of, um, "hiking" through the streets of Palma before it starts raining, but we're already tucked into a nice ribera del duero by this time anyway. I'll leave you with a few impressions of Palma . . .



A Garage Door.



I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February -- Day 4

This must be the dreaded Caca.
"Shine bright like a diamond," I sing with Rihanna. We sound remarkably alike. "Shine bright like a diamond."
"Shine bite like a dead man," Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor sings along, too late and sounding nothing like Rihanna. We are on our way to our fourth hike, somewhere in the north--which is nowhere near Port Andratx. That's all I know.

By the time we finally reach the starting point of the hike (somewhere in the north), I have sung duets with Michael Jackson, Roxette (which I guess would be a trio), Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and of course Rihanna. Herbie has threatened to murder me in the forest if I don't stop singing. Twice. He knows this just makes me sing louder. Do you car dance? Car dancing is so important . . . and healthy. What else is there to do in the car for almost an hour? Besides singing loudly.

Problem is, on Mallorca the radio stations go in and out, so it's hard to make it through a complete dance set before you get to your hike somewhere up north. Once, we have to listen to Spanish talk radio for 15 minutes. I laugh occasionally to make Herbie think I understand Spanish. Sucker.

Exceptionally, today's trail does not start in a residential area but in a national park, a reserve for big caca, which doesn't mean what you might think. It means big (dangerous) game; and just about the time we figure this out, two hikers come walking toward us.

"They don't look that dangerous to me," I say.  "Or that big either."

"They are people, not animals," says Herbie.

"True," I say. "And it's also true that your sense of humor needs oiling."

Herbie unzips his backpack and hands me his sunscreen . . . in earnest. "Right," I say. "Right."

This will be a special day, but we don't know it yet. The trail, in the beginning, is wide and even and pleasant and all those other positive words. It's rocky too, but we're used to rocky by now. We're the Rocksters. We rock. We encounter a group of hikers with a dog, which attaches itself to me because I'm adorable. Once I shake the little guy, we're able to walk up the mountain in peace and solitude and . . .

But when we reach the ridge, we see that we are not alone in these here hills. Today 300 cross-country runners are trudging up and down the mountains with us. We pause for a moment to ask the organizers which way Alcudia is. One of the organizers, crying Vamos! Vamos! to the runners while talking to us, tries to get us to take a route that would not interfere with the race. We, however, choose to take the route that puts us very much in the way of around 200 runners. Go, us!

"Ha ha ha! Si, si! I know: we're going the wrong way," I say for the twelfth time.

One runner stops and asks Herbie in German if he has a big beer--because, although Herbie is obviously Venezuelan, he looks remarkably German.

Some of the runners are actually walking, limping and crawling up the mountain. I am tempted several times to cry Vamos! Vamos! as well, but I'm glad I don't. After several kilometers it becomes clear to us that these runners have already run or walked or crawled over two mountains. The race has to be more than 20 kilometers.  

The hike up and down and around these mountains is challenging, mainly because we feel inspired to up our pace by the runners, who are clearly in better condition than we are. Well most of them are. It is inspiring to see groups of friends running together. Husbands and wives. Buddies. Vamos! Vamos! I cry as I pull my hood around my cheeks. It's cold.

I have forgotten to mention that Herbie has promised me ruins on this hike. I have not seen any ruins, and I am holding this against Herbie. I'm suffering from severe ruin-deprivation when we finally reach something that Herb tries to pass off as a ruin. In perfect condition, it's a building that looks like an old--yet beautifully restored--church. If you want to know which church and maybe a bit about its history, you'll probably need to head off to a blog that's heavier on the info than mine.

OK, so I just felt lame for not looking it up for you. It's the ermita de la victòria, and that link I've just provided needs to be edited in a large honking way. Who can't look up how to spell welcome? It's a renovated church: renovated as a hotel of course.  ka-ching.

ermita de la victòria
From the ermita de la victòria it's only another hour back to our car, but it's a lovely walk. It's all downhill from here. It's a pity we don't encounter any more runners.

Tomorrow Day 5 of Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 
 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February -- Day 3

One disadvantage of letting someone else organize everything is that I often wind up walking along dangerous roads, scouring the shoulder for the infamous "inconspicuous entrance to the trail"--which seems to be a theme here on Mallorca.

"This is the sort of place one would dump a body," I say as I pull myself up the grassy vertical face of a hill along the dangerous road south of Valldemossa. And right on cue I spy a blanket folded to look as if there might just be a child's body under it. I don't look.

"I don't think this is the trail," says Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor.

"That's what they mean when they say 'inconspicuous'."

The trail does indeed end, leaving us staring at an even steeper, grassier wall. We turn around and head back down to the dangerous road.

"Curva peligrosa," says Herbie. Besides la cuenta por favor, this is the extent of Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor's Spanish--which, again, calls into question his Venezuelan heritage.

"I really don't like walking around a curve on a dangerous road with tons of metal whizzing towards me." But no one is listening. "I just don't like it." There's nothing for it. We have to walk down the road a bit to another opening. It's the entrance to a residential area. On Mallorca, many of the trails begin in residential areas because, on Mallorca, all the hills are being developed into construction ruins.

Finally on the right path, we start what should be a five-hour course up, around and back down the mountain. It's a national park--an incredibly rocky national park. Again, I can't say this enough: bring hiking boots, put them on your feet and watch your step. The walk up to the top of this mountain turns out to be delightfully steep. By the time we reach the top, we are two sweaty mountain goats. Maahhhhahh-mahhh. 






The trail. Rocks and more rocks.

It should go without saying that we make a few wrong turns. Usually mountain trails are marked. German trails are meticulously marked, and so are Austrian and South Tyrolean trails. The trails on Mallorca are a lottery. Is it lychen or paint? Who knows?

Tell me this doesn't look like a trail. It's not.

What used to be a big red dot, is now almost gone.


This one was actually pretty obvious.

If you become used to looking for traces of paint on the rocks, you'll find your way through the forest. The ground is covered with stones, so you'll be fooled by "paths" everywhere. Finally back in Valldemossa after a four-hour hike--we managed the five-hour hike in four hours because we are brawny men--we take a brawny stroll around the village.  We sit awhile on the steps leading up to the church. When we stand up to leave, I feel the hike in my knees.

"You are getting old," Herbie says to me.

"I could walk up that mountain again," I say.

"But you'd rather go back to the hotel and have a bubble bath?"

"Yes."

Tomorrow Day 4 of Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire).


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February -- Day 2

Hiking on Mallorca in February


_____________________________________________________________

Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor--do Venezuelans even pearl-dive?--was supposed to highlight the route for me so that I could better remember where we hiked. I'm still waiting for this. Herb is slacking, but onward. Forced to use the creaky facility of my sorry mind, I give you the second day of hiking from memory:

"You need to dress more warmly," Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor says. We're still in our hotel room, but Herbie is already wearing his sunglasses.

"Oh come on. Don't be such a wuss."

"No really. We are going to hike at around 1000 meters, so it will be chilly."

I put a pullover in the backpack. How chilly can it get? The sun is out. The radio tells us there's a 1% chance of rain. The birds are tweeting. After about a 30-minute drive, though, there's more gray and goats than sun and birdies. When I stop to use the public toilet (the forest), I get my first brisk hint of chilly. It will indeed be chilly.

We go cross-country skiing every year in -20-degree weather. The sweat forms snow on our backs, and we can rarely feel our extremities (if you know what I mean). We are rugged. I pfiff on chilly.



Rock Wall

Hmmm. We can bear chilly for about two hours. It's a beautiful, scrubby place. It's windy and very rocky. There are a few other hikers: mostly Germans used to hiking in any weather and various degrees of rockiness. There are lots of sheep too. And rock walls. But after an hour, we decide to turn around and find a sunnier place to hike--not because we are wusses but because we want to work on our tans. I hope this clarifies that we are not wusses.

And we find a great place. You might never find it unless someone tells you about it. Opposite a scenic look-out restaurant on the main road--you'll have to ask Herbert for more details; God knows I'm useless without the highlighting Herbie promised but has yet to deliver--you'll find an unassuming trail that leads back into the olive groves. Like all walks on Mallorca it's a rocky affair. Bring along hiking boots . . . and put them on your feet. And watch your step. You could easily twist an ankle here, and there wouldn't be anyone to carry you out except a few adorable, yet useless, sheep.

Sheep

Um . . . Sheep

I love sheep. They're shy and skittish. This flock happens upon us, and they stare at me for quite a long time. Just as they seem to accept me as one of their own--Gorillas in the Mist-style--my camera scares them off. This despite my relative fluency in Sheepish. I know about 300 Sheepish words including of course Mahhhh-ahh-ahhh, Mahhhhhhhh and Bahhh-ah-ahhhh. I converse with an old sheep for a few minutes, so I'm a bit disappointed when they all run off. I"m pretty sure I said "I come in peace" in Sheepish, but it might have come out "I almost always order lamb filets at my favorite Greek restaurant."

After two more hours, we head back to the scenic look-out restaurant where I have a tortilla and a glass of fairly good white wine. A tortilla in Spain is a pie made with eggs, potatoes and cheese (and sometimes other ingredients like fish and mushrooms). It is gluten-free and it's filling after a good hike.

Tortilla espanol y vino blanco --Gluten-free

The scene from the scenic look-out restaurant is Sóller, a popular destination on Mallorca. We decide to wrap up our day with another glass of white wine at the harbor. If I were to live on Mallorca, this little town would be the perfect place. Here are few impressions of Sóller.

Sóller, Mallorca

Sóller, Mallorca

Check out that rainbow on the beach!

Tomorrow Day 3 of Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February -- Day 1

Port Andratx, Mallorca
This is an historic post. For the first time, my mysterious travel companion has asked to create his own nickname. This is a jaw-dropping miracle. As I've pointed out many times before, he's an organizer not a name coiner. His first few attempts at creating his handle for this trip were lame. Just lame. It wasn't his fault though. He didn't understand the procedure. Once I explained it to him, he came up with . . .  wait for it . . .

Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor

. . . which is fairly good for a first go. Well, his very first "go" was Booger, which is his real nickname.

"You can't use your real nickname, Booger."

"Why not? This is what you call me, no?" He's pinning a map of Mallorca to the steering wheel and driving too fast. We've just landed on Mallorca. It's 9:00 a.m. and we're going to hike until 2:00 p.m. We're fired up.

"It defeats the purpose of the whole 'mystery man' thing," I say.

"I see." He says like he likes the 'mystery man' thing.

We are on our way from the airport near Palma to the mountains overlooking Port Andratx. Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor has chosen this hike because of the free parking at Port Andratx. The trail will (not) lead us to a place I will call Selm until two hours into the hike when I see a sign that clearly says S. Elm and later turns out to be Sant Elm. Will it even later turn out to be Saint Elmo's Fire? We'll see.

About five minutes into the hike (through a residential area because Spain has decided to ruin the landscape with houses no one has the money to buy) we enounter a couple and their three delightful children. The youngest, dressed as a pirate, keeps poking me with a stick.

"Excuse me. German English?" says the man. It's the common greeting on Mallorca, Germany's '16th Bundesland' and a popular summer residence for the British.

"Doesn't matter," Herbert the Venezuelan Pearl Diving Instructor says. You'd think Herbert could speak Spanish too. Being Venezuelan and all.

The path deadends into a newly built, private property. We consult maps. Gripe about all the houses being built. Head off in another direction and find what we think is the way up and over the mountain. The British/German couple and their lovely children are far behind us as we slog up the hill through construction, construction, construction. And then a dog almost eats us. A big dog. His master tells us we've come the wrong way and that we have to go back to the hotel Mon Port and take another path. Mon Port is where we met the British/German couple/kids. You get the picture. By the time we get to the top of the mountain, the British/German couple/kids are in front of us.

"How did you manage to get behind us?" the mother yells to us. "And we have three small children."

Ooh, I hate it when other hikers--especially those with three adorable children--beat me to the top. I have such a competitive spirit when it comes to hiking and red wine.

"We were almost eaten by a very large dog!" I yell back, trying to wake a wave of sympathy--and when that doesn't work: "Herbert the Venezuelan Perl Diving Instructor here got us lost!" Blame is so freeing.

Why should you go to Mallorca in February? While we're catching our breath along the ridge that leads us to our next detour, let's take a breather and think about this. Eighty percent of the restaurants and seventy percent of the hotels are closed during this time. The promenade on the Platya de Palma is relatively unpopulated. Almost no one is on the beach. So why do Mallorca in winter? It's great for hiking and cycling. Thousands of cyclists come here in the winter to train. We heard on the radio that the temperature was actually one degree lower than usual. At 15 C, it was perfect for hiking.


We stop--and thank God we do: one step further would mean certain death--at a rocky precipice and eat our lunch. Well, Herbie eats his lunch, which was my lunch from Air Berlin: a sandwich that I of course can't eat because of the dreaded gluten. I just watch.

The rocky precipice turns out to be a wrong turn, but with the help of more experienced hikers we find the now-infamous sign to S. Elm.

"It says here"--by this time the English/German couple/kids have caught up to us again--"that the path to S. Elm is an inconspicuous, almost vertical path through the rocks." Their guidebook is so much better than ours (since we don't have one). So off we go again. And what a reward the north face of these rocks is.

To make a long hike short, the next person we meet on the path tells us we're going the wrong way.

"Selm?" I still think the place is called Selm.

"Sant Elm?" the man corrects me.

"If you say so," I say.

He points to the path from whence we have just come, and I say Oh Brother.

"To hell with Sant Elm," Herbie says.

"I'm pretty sure that's blasphemy."

"To hell with Selm," Herbie says.

"Better."

We walk to the next town instead, which takes us about an hour. While we're waiting to see if the bus to Port Andratx is late--we've missed it by two minutes and the next one isn't coming for 3 hours--we have a nice chat with two women who want to speak German to us.

"Warten Sie auf Bus?" Are you waiting for bus?

"Wir hoffen er hat verspätung," I say. We're counting on Spanish lateness.

"Die nächste Bus kommen 4:45 p.m.," she says. The nexte bus come 4:45.

"Ist schon klar. Wir könnten auch zu Fuss." Yes, we can read the sign. We can also walk to Port Andratx, which is four kilometers away. We do indeed end up walking the road all the way back to the port--at which time Herbie decides we're just going to drive to Sant Elm--a total yawner of a town. I secretly hope we'll be sitting in a café at the seaside when the British/German couple/kids come huffing into the town. And I plan to pretend that we found the town before they did. Unfortunately, they are nowhere to be found. I hope they're all right. If you happen to see this post, lovely people, let me know how your hike turned out!

S. Elm -- Mallorca

Tomorrow DAY 2 of Five Days of Hiking on Mallorca in February.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire).

  



 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Christopher Allen Wahlmünchner


Christopher Allen after 18 Years in Munich

 
A Wahlmünchner is a person who is not from München but has chosen to call München home. Have I chosen that, or has it chosen me? No idea. It just happened. I've lived in Munich almost 18 years now and have rarely, if ever, written about the city--except for my yearly posts instructing people how to best enjoy Oktoberfest. In fact, I sometimes doubt if I really know the city the way someone should after an 18-year love affair. Love is a strong word.

I arrived in Munich on June 1, 1995--with my Cocker spaniel in tow--to be with my new partner. The partner was an enormous mistake, but if there's one thing I learned from this enormous mistake it's that enormous mistakes often lead to great adventures. If you're willing to take the chance of making mistakes, if you're willing to see them as life workshops, well I say throw caution to the wind. If you don't think you can handle failure, I'd leave it.

After six months of failing at my new relationship, I moved into my own flat, which I shared with my dog and some very cheap furniture. I was working at a language institute and making enough money to get by on my own. I paid my ex off (he'd loaned me enough money to pay off my credit cards in the US) and started to enjoy life in Munich. Thanks to my move to Germany, I was miraculously debtfree. I danced.

Since my difficult beginnings in Munich, I've met hundreds of expats from all over the world living in Germany. People say it's hard to meet people in Munich. And that's true. I meet expats as part of my job but rarely have contact with people socially. The times I've tried to meet people have almost completely failed to yield lasting relationships. Is this a cultural issue, or am I just not friend material? Maybe a bit of both?

But then I met Gerhard the Prussian Palm Cemetery Pfleger. He would have many nicknames in the years to come, but this was his first. We hit it off, but Gerhard the Prussian Palm Cemetery Pfleger, as his name indicates, was also a Wahlmünchner. Long story short, I stayed. And I don't mean to give you the complete history of my Munich adventure.

For my new Expat Blog readers, I'd like to talk a bit about Munich and why Munich is a great place to live. I do think it's a great place. If you can get a job here, it's worth it. Here are some things you need to know, though:

1. Munich is the most expensive place to live in Germany: a major deal-breaker for some people, I know. Expect to pay at least 1000 euros for a 2-bedroom flat a bit outside the city.  
2. Finding a flat in Munich is a trial. Some landlords, as soon as they hear an accent on the phone, will tell you Die Wohnung ist leider schon vergeben (Unfortunately the flat is already rented/let.) My advice, if your German is weak, is to get a real estate agent--einen Makler--and just pay the high fee. When you look for a flat in Munich, you'll be competing with at least 10--sometimes many more--flat seekers. Recently there was a headline in the local paper 20000 Studenten Suchen Wohnung in München (20000 Students Seeking a flat in Munich). Many of these students didn't find a flat. I have no idea what happened with them. There are lots of bridges in Munich. If your company is paying for the move, ask your company to help you find a flat.
3. You've probably researched the requirements for a residence permit in Germany, so I won't bore you with it (although you're welcome to ask questions in the comments). You need to know, though, that the German authorities are much like any authority. You have to pull a number and wait your turn. And wait and wait. And when it's finally your turn, you'll inevitably be missing some important document no one ever told you you needed. When you apply for an extension, don't forget you need to do this in German--and you'll need to check the box that you have adequate German skills. If you don't speak any German, you'll need to fix that before you come.
I needed to bring proof of health insurance and life insurance. I had to present a contract with my employer. It was a freelance contract but apparently enough. I also had to present a current HIV test. The authorities needed a passport picture and money. Every time I went to take care of these things, there was something new I'd missed. Make sure you know what to bring and ARRIVE REALLY EARLY.
I'll be talking about my home city more in the next few weeks. If you're an expat, or a potential expat, trying to decide whether you want to live in Munich, I welcome your questions. I'm also working on a book for those people interested in teaching English in Germany. But for now . . .

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen  is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire).