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Jun 20, 2012

A day in Heidelberg

After several hours in Professor Maran's office above the student cafeteria at the University of Heidelberg, we finally checked off all the points on the list of things to discuss in preparation for our upcoming field campaign in ancient Tiryns, Greece (more to come on that in a later post).

Just two days before the summer solstice, the warm air in the enclosed space had made us sleepy. We adjourned immediately to the outdoor tables and equipped ourselves with beer to enjoy some sunshine. It was fun watching students - of all ages and nationalities - enjoying the fine weather.

After a light dinner in the Altstadt, we wandered over the cobblestone streets looking for a nice place to enjoy a drink after sunset. It was then I realized - once again - that my Chucks were inadequate protection from Cobblestone Foot Pain. That's when I began pointing to random bars and shouting, 'Look, they have tables. And chairs!' and 'Oh, how nice, looks like the perfect place to grab a drink.' We finally ended up just a few feet from our inner city hotel. My feet sighed in relief.

Cobblestones are not only responsible for Foot Woes, they, along with narrow streets, are perfect acoustic reflectors. Just as I was about to drift into sleep in my hotel bed, the entire population of a small but loud country, began partying outside our hotel window. Since I didn't have any offal handy to dump on their heads, I had to endure it. The garbage collectors completed the restful experience at around 6:00 a.m.

After a hearty German breakfast, 'we' decided to ascend the Philosopher's Walk, a historic path on the northern bank of the Neckar River that winds its way up and around the Heiligenberg and that would afford us a spectacular view of the city and Heidelberg castle. I spoke quietly to my Chucks, begging them to be nice. Not wanting to be wimpy, I endured the pain and the ascent, but it wasn't pretty. People at least a decade older than me were passing me without even breathing hard. A reminder that I've had way too much butt-in-chair time lately. 

But finally I got to the top. And it was worth it. Even though I didn't feel at all like talking existentialism, it was quite relaxing and peaceful.

View of Heidelberg castle from the Philosopher's Way

Heidelberg from above

View of the city from across the Neckar River
Then we had to skedaddle back down the trail as it was time to head back to rainy Cologne. It's no wonder that every tourist has Heidelberg at the top of its list. My only wish was for one more day and a decent pair of walking shoes.

Jun 6, 2012

Speculative Fiction and Me: The Longer Version

In addition to making me watch scary movies as soon as I was old enough to scream, my father read to me. Most often it was Dr. Seuss, so I'd say that was my first inoculation (along with Dracula and the Wolfman) into speculative fiction. My brothers were into the Berenstein Bears and Go, Dog. Go! (first published in 1961, it's still in print) and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. We all liked I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo. LeSieg. I'd have to say my favorite Seuss was On Beyond Zebra. I still have all the originals and read them all to my son when he was small. Maybe there's a connection between Dr. Seuss and lovers of the fantastic, since my son is an avid fantasy reader. I've got them packed away in boxes now, awaiting the next generation of readers. 

But it was C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia that really got me turned on to fantasy. I was twelve when I checked it out of the Carrollton, Texas public library. After that, there was no returning to the candy-stripe nurses or young-girl-and-horse stories, although they represented fantasies of a different sort. Thankfully, my parents never censored my reading habits, so I also dived into things as diverse as the stories of Anais Nin and Anna Karenina, Ayn Rand and Anne Frank. By the time we got around to reading something in English class, I'd usually already read it.

Then there was this bookstore. I used to know Dallas - all the ways to get here and there - but it's been a while, and it's likely everything's changed quite drastically in the twenty years I've been in Germany. So I've forgotten exactly where it was. I'd like to say it was on the southwest corner of Inwood Rd. and Lover's Lane, but it could be that my memory deceives me. If anyone remembers this store, let me know. I'd appreciate it. Anyway, it was just a little bookshop, but they carried mostly SF, some fantasy, some horror, and some comics. I was working full-time as a secretary at the nearby medical school and studying on my own nickel, so I didn't have a lot of disposable cash, but most of what I had went into that shop, and it wasn't long before I'd run through much of the inventory.

Once you get into graduate level work in whatever field of study you've chosen, you usually begin to run into mentors who are going to help you along. I was no different and am hugely grateful to all my early mentors in geophysics - all men - including one ex-husband - who helped me along and guided me into my areas of specialization. Well, this bookstore was my speculative fiction mentor. It's shelves guided me deeper into science fiction and fantasy. The best thing about that shop was the completeness of their series. You could be pretty sure if books one and two of a trilogy were available, that they'd have book three shelved with it or would reorder it quickly. That was the only really frustrating thing on my journey through books at that point - finishing book one or two before Monday, before I could go back and buy the next one (Sundays in those days, the shops were usually closed).

I don't remember when that shop closed, but I do remember it as being a very sad thing. Even though most of the bookstore chains at that point carried respectable speculative fiction collections, it wasn't the same. That store was a magical kingdom, created just for me, I always thought. It was on a busy intersection, and had no real foot traffic to speak of. You went in there because you wanted to. There weren't any comfortable chairs to sit and browse books - there weren't any chairs. Just a few aisles with shelves. And a friendly clerk, more often knowledgeable than not.

Even though I was an early reader, self-taught at age four, and always loved reading, if I had to draw a line backwards, however curvy and loopy it turned out to be, that bookstore would be the real starting point for my getting fired up about reading (and writing) the kind of stuff that I do.