Monday, July 30, 2018

Was ist dat (what is that)?

It is true what they say about travel. It is wonderfully entertaining. You set foot on another land and see amazing places, different ways of doing things as well as different-looking and -sounding people. You also see (and long for) the familiar.

We were in different parts of Germany and Austria in the first half of this year and for two weeks, it seemed like we were in a totally different world.

Our itinerary included churches, castles, museums which meant walking, walking, walking and driving in between. I counted some 20 churches by the time we boarded our flight back to the Philippines, most of which we had not planned on visiting. But turn a corner, and there stands a cathedral or a smaller version of it that you just have to enter.

A lot can be said about the grandeur of Europe and the fascination its well-preserved cultural heritage holds for visitors like me, but I leave
that to the more cultured lot. Instead, let me just count the many, small things that struck this Filipino first-timer in Germany.

Mini trash cans on the table. My sister-in-law, who lives in Germany,  explains to us that the open containers labeled Für den sauberen Tisch (for the clean table) are on hand for us to deposit all the refuse we’ve generated from breakfast (usually butter, jam, yogurt and nutella portion cups, sugar and cream sachets, paper napkins, etc.) provided by the hotel.

Easter eggs. Not really. Just boiled eggs that are colored to distinguish them from the raw eggs displayed on the same supermarket shelf.

Drinking fountains. You can fill your reusable containers with water from drinking fountains in Europe, most of which are labeled only when the water is NOT safe for drinking (Kein Trinkwasser) since they are the exception rather than the rule.

Drinking water fountains 
dot the streets of Vienna.
Tap water in Germany and especially Austria is generally safe for drinking even if many Europeans go for bottled water, particularly sparkling water.

It's ironic because piped water in Germany is considered to be as good as or even better than mineral water.

A drinking water fountain in Hallstatt (left) and another in Altötting (right).

By the way, did I mention that some of the drinking water fountains are really beautiful? 

Pay toilets. What you save in drinking water may go to pay restrooms or WC  (water closet) in Germany.  There are ways to avoid this, of course (the use of this facility is free in most museums), but one usually pays anywhere from 50 to 70 Euro cents to use the WC elsewhere. 

Some restaurants even have personnel manning these facilities. In rest stations along the autobahn, you have to slip coins into a slot to open the barricade. What's nice is that you usually get a voucher for 50 Euro cents, which you can use in the rest station store.

Still, the cost of using toilets can add up because you will be out walking most of the time so make sure you have enough coins handy.

Not your ordinary gutter system.
Euro-gutters.  I first notice these half-round gutter systems on the old buildings in Muhldorf. “What are those pots near the gutter?” I ask my German nephew. 

The “pots” are actually called leader heads or collectors for water runoff from the gutter system before the water flows down the drain spout. Most of them use copper, which is pliable and can withstand extreme weather conditions.  Though found in most historic buildings across Europe, the half-round gutter system is slowly becoming popular in homes even outside Europe and now come in a variety of materials that include steel, zinc and aluminum.

Hausmadonna. This is a sculpture of our Blessed Virgin Mary, with or without the child Jesus, installed on the outside of city houses and buildings in Germany.  According to Wikipedia, some of these sculptures date back to the Middle Ages, while some are still being made today. These are usually found on the level of the second floor or higher, and often on the corner of a house. I find a number of these while walking along the streets of Muhldorf. Of course, the Catholic in me finds this very comforting.

Snow guards.  Okay, so this is strange only to people from tropical countries like the Philippines where it does not snow.  They look like spikes installed in a pattern across the roof with what looks like a mini fence or rail just before the gutter.  These devices are used to retain 
“Vintage” snow guards.
snow and ice formed during winter so that they do not fall in an avalanche and harm people or damage property below. 

This is the same principle behind the rocks placed strategically across the roof of a structure that stands in the village of Hohenschwangau near Fussen in southwest Bavaria. Obviously, these are the "snow guards" before the advent of technology.

Anti-bird net. I first notice the net enveloping the façade of the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall), a magnificent neo-gothic building from the turn of the century which architecturally dominates the north side of Munich’s Marienplatz  or central square. It is almost invisible. 

The net covering the statues is barely visible.
But once I become aware of it, I see it on almost all of the historic buildings that we tour in Germany. Birds, particularly pigeons and gulls, can cause significant and extensive damage on these buildings not only aesthetically (droppings are unsightly), but also physically. Bird feces are corrosive and can cause long-term damage to masonry and metal that can often be found on such buildings.

Abi signs.  We pass by the St. Irmengard School on our way to the Zugspitze train station in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and we notice that the school’s wire fence is practically covered with what looks like congratulatory signs made out of cloth. My German niece confirms that students usually put up the signs to wish each other well for the Abitur or Abi, which is Germany's qualifying exam for higher education.

Tilt and turn windows.  They look like our awning windows which we open by turning a lever and pushing the window out from the bottom. In Germany, the lever at the side is pulled, tilting the window inward and opening from the top. It then locks into place after opening a few inches, resting at an angle. Both types of windows are good for ventilation, but I think our awning gives us better protection from heavy rain. What’s good about the tilt and turn window, though, is that you can also turn the lever to make the window swing inward, allowing access to both sides of the glass which makes it easier for cleaning when you’re above ground floor level. It’s more expensive, though, which is probably why it is not common in the Philippines. 

Of course, so many more things stood out for me, but I cannot write them all. Germany is a wonderful place to visit and so different from the Philippines. But there comes a time when one just stops trying to document everything to simply enjoy the moment, and capture everything not with the camera but with the heart.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


1990 column picture
It is done.

Some four months after we buried our mother, I have finished scanning all of her clippings of the “Light Sunday” column that she kept from 1990 to 2017.

I learned many things. One, that my mother would have made a very poor librarian. So many of her clippings lacked dates. I guessed at some of the dates based on the order in which the clipping was glued to the page of a large notebook, one of many which featured the faces of long-gone Tagalog celebrities on its covers.  

She was not much for presentation either. I cringed at how unevenly she cut out the columns and felt a faint sense of vertigo over how they tilted left or right on the pages. And she lacked several. My mother wrote for SunStar Cebu every Sunday from November 25, 1990 to August 6, 2017. I counted 1,340 Sunday columns in her possession, but figured that she lacked about 41 more.

1998 column picture
Two, she wrote about us. Many times I stumbled on a half-forgotten memory retrieved from the yellowed edges of her clipping. There we were growing up, getting jobs, leaving home, getting married, having children, getting sick…named or unnamed, we peppered her columns for some 27 years.

And she wrote about her concerns, things that were real to her. Most importantly, she spoke with hope and total belief in the Lord even if she highlighted issues and challenges that seem insurmountable.

My young immature self then had wondered if my teacher of a mother, whose strong religious beliefs and love of God always managed to work itself into every piece she wrote – masked or unmasked – would register with a newspaper-reading public (Internet access was not widespread then) that seemed to feed on current and more worldly, trendy and cosmopolitan topics.

This column pic lasted just months in 2004.
I should have known better than to doubt her. I have friends who tell me that their mothers would look for and read my mom’s column every Sunday. We would get positive feedback via mail and in person. 

My mother wrote as she lived. With a love for God and family, and a genuine concern for mankind even if that concern was often shortchanged. Sure, she was also critical and sometimes got burned for her opinions, but this never stopped her from expressing what she felt was right. 

Finally, color in 2007.
As I scan page after page and read through years of her writing, I relive having a wonderful, caring, imperfect, stubborn, strong-willed, God-loving and -fearing mother, and I miss her even more. So do my sisters.

We laugh at the memories her writing evoke, wince at the times we unknowingly caused her pain because we had grown up and away from her, share her frustration over how problems remain unsolved because of lack of leadership or will, and admire her tenacity of faith and unfailing belief in the power of prayer.

She got a new column picture in  2017,
the last year she wrote for SunStar Cebu.
My sister, Ludette, says it best:  "Most people will say that their mothers are special. But Mommy Really. Was. Special."

I have four sisters, a lifetime of memories and 1,340 pages of mostly undated, unevenly-cut and discolored clippings to back me up.