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Showing posts from November, 2006

Time to say goodbye

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Time to go. It's been 75 great days in Cracow. The Poles are great people. Cracow is a great city. The denizens of the Villa Decius Guesthouse were great writers, interesting people and I hope they will remain good friends.

A few of us who were left - Erica, Tanja, Katja and her friend Katja - sat around in the Gosopda restaurant last night and discussed whether we had accomplished what we had set out to acccomplish.

The goals were wildly different: Erica finished her book but did not "finish" learning Polish; Katja did some writing and did not "find herself," but she almost did. Tanja just plain didn't want to leave.


And me? Did I accomplish anything here? I didn't finish my great renaissance novel, but I did sold two books, one of which is a comic novel, I finished the website and there was something else strange that happened. Spending 75 days surrounded by writers who take their work but not necessarily themselves very seriously, I began looking at…

The Night of the Cool Polish Lesbian Hang-Out

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There were a number of great nights out in Cracow. Cracovians, so many of them students, know how to party. But the best night was the night of the Cool Lesbian Hang-Out.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about the great journalist and bestselling writer Erica Fischer (many of which I myself have helped to spread!), but of these, the greatest is this: She is not a lesbian.

Her big hit, "Aimee and Jaguar," was a lesbian love story about a Jew and a Nazi German woman during the Third Reich. As a Jew, Erica was most interested in the Jewish/Holocaust aspect of the story. But when the movie came out, young women all around Europe identified with the love story, and so when Erica today shows up at a reading or a movie screening to answer questions afterwards, she finds herself surrounded by young lesbians who want to get to know her. “Why can’t I attract MEN with my writing?” she says helplessly.

That is an irony, but more important, it is an opportunity for guys like me and A…

Trans-Gender Literariness

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This is a famous non-lesbian Polish writer by the name of Joanna Oparek who apparently likes to write novels featuring male lead characters, in whose voices she writes.
When Erica asked her why she, as a woman, chose to speak though male characters, she uttered a great line: “When I write as a woman, I am either too soft or too hard.”

Anyone want to bet on the Warren Jeffs trial?

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If you want to know how tough it is to be an American, watch the trial of Warren Jeffs, the self-named prophet and leader of a polygamist sect based on outdated Mormon beliefs, which began only a few days ago. (As an ex-Mormon, I am very interested in the trial, even though the real Mormon Church has rejected and even prosecuted polygamy for the last hundred years. More importantly, his monotonous, mesmerizing voice is part of a great album by Godspeed You Black Emperor, entitled "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.")

The first reports from the trial show what a horrible torment this trial is going to be. Though the goal is clearly to get rid of the embarrassment of polygamy, Jeffs is being tried for accessory to rape. As "prophet," he ordered an underage girl to marry (and then consummate the marriage) a man she didn’t want to marry. The girl is testifying against Jeffs. I predict that the defense will bring about two thousand friends of the "prop…

Content vs. Form

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There it was: The glass of Nutella, just sitting there on the breakfast table.

Nutella is a creamy, chocolatey, nutty breakfast spread that is very popular in Germany and is becoming more and more popular in other parts of the world as well. It comes in a hundred different brands and flavors (This particular jar is a different brand and thus not officially Nutella, which is a trade-marked brand, but still I call it that.)

Seeing it there on the table was a clear sign that were would soon be a fight. A fight about aesthetics. That’s how things happen in these literary houses: All it takes is one little thing like a glass of Nutella to set us off and we’re at each other’s throats. This is how it happened:

Erica: Who eats Nutella around here? Isn’t that something that kids eat?

Eric: Oh my God, you just made me realize that there is more meaning in that glass of Nutella than there will ever be in a beautiful poem about a tree.

Katja: You filthy bastard, there you go disparaging the beau…

I Miss Someone

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Sunday Morning. A little hung-over, a little lonely.

Listening to Hank Williams again.

He's telling me: You've been away from home for quite a while now.

I have been, Hank. But I have one or two things more to do here.

How long is too long? When is it time to hit the road back home?

Soon, I tell him. Very soon.

How To Insult a German

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I still feel horrible about insulting my good friend Christoph the Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor when he was here for a wild weekend. In the heat of late-night conversation (this was after he prepared his great post-midnight pasta meal for all of us) I called him “typisch deutsch” – “typically German.”

I don't know how I could have said such a thing! It just slipped out. 20 years in Germany and I still can't get used to all the unseen pitfalls in daily communication. "Typical German," you see, is not considered a compliment by Germans. I could see his face kind of sink: “Ah hell, even Eric thinks I’m a typical German. I’ve failed as a human being.”

When Germans call me “typical American”, I take it as a compliment. True, sometimes there’s a bit of joshing there, but in general when people call me “American” it’s more or less good. We Americans, too, talk about ourselves in a generally positive way: "That can only happen in America," for example, is a phrase we use t…

THE NEW BOOK IS OUT!

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This is it, folks: Today my new book "Planet Germany" hits the bookstores.

It's in German, it's a look at Germany and the Germans through the eyes of an American (that would be me), it's funny, it's insightful, it's true and it's good. Buy it if you haven't already!

Here's the book's website.

Here's the book on Amazon.de.

Here's my new website, which also launches today: www.ethansen.de.

What a coincidence: Today is Thanksgiving. What am I thankful for? That the book is out and that it turned out well. That I can write another book. I'm very thankful that my father is okay after his operation. I am thankful for my girlfriend and all the support she has given me (and not only that). I am thankful for my friends, new and old.

Krakau Diary, Day 67: The Rediscovery of the Drinking Buddy

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After weeks and weeks of high-brow literary discussion and non-stop parsing of James Joyce and the aesthetics of the use of the qualifier in sentences under five words, I needed a break. So I imported my old friend Christoph the Rock 'n' Roll Doctor for a weekend.

Christoph has more of an artistic vein than I do – he plays guitar and composes (in fact, he revealed himself, standing before a busking guitarist at the Krakau Rynek, to be quite a guitar snob, if I may say so myself). But was less interested in that aspect of his personality than I was in another: He is also a great drinking buddy.

I know an old-fashioned drinking buddy may not be all that hip in certain circles, but sometimes that's precisely what a guy needs. We toured the clubs of Krakau, watched the beautiful women, watched the other guys watching the beautiful women and made jokes about to old to stand around watching the beautiful women anymore. (Though I have to admit I thought it was a little bit shamel…