Monthly Archives: December 2011

Postcard: Berlin

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Berlin, December 2011

Losing a Tooth in Berlin

Tooth Out!

We were in Berlin visiting friends. Jessica’s brother, Noah, was with us.

Adam’s front tooth had been loose for days, and it was now hanging by a sinew. But Adam wanted to wait until we were with Uncle Noah, who was visiting part of the Berlin Wall while we were walking around Berlin neighborhoods.

We finally reunited with Uncle Noah back in the hotel lobby. Adam reached in, grabbed the tooth… and pulled down!

Is It Safe?

Gentle Dental?

I cracked my tooth on an olive pit and my first appointment with a dentist was today. The dental practice is in Switzerland, the dental assistant is French, and the dentist is German. But not just German, East German.

Lying in a dental chair and coming face to face — actually, mouth to sharp medical instruments — with an East German dentist caused me to flash to Marathon Man.

The dental exam turned out to be safe. But you know what’s not safe? Biting into an olive pit.

Espresso Served with Snout-walking Furry Creature

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I made history today. In Basel. At my favorite cafe.

I placed the cafe’s first order for a triple espresso.

The owner, Mich, honored the occasion with a buy-two-espressos-get-the-third-shot-for-free.

Am I a microcelebrity: 15 seconds of fame in a very small area of celebrity — my table at the cafe? Yes. Does that make me cool? Yes. But don’t take my word for it, talk to my press agent.

The cafe, Nasobem, is a happy place filled with warm light and bright colors, English and German books for sale, and quirky little toys like mini-lego sets and really awesomely decorated ultra bouncy super balls. And, of course, coffee.

The cafe, by the way, is named for a fictious creature called a Nasobame, or snouter, from the 1905 poem Das Nasobem by Christian Morgenstern. From there, the fictional creature, which walks on its nose, was adopted by others and took on a life of its own.

Here’s Wikipedia’s description:

The Rhinogradentia (also called Rhinogrades, snouters, or Nasobames) are a fictitious mammal order documented by the equally fictitious German naturalist Harald Stümpke. The order’s most remarkable characteristic was the nasorium, an organ derived from the ancestral species’ nose, which had variously evolved to fulfil every conceivable function.

Both the animals and the scientist were ostensibly creations of Gerolf Steiner, a zoology professor at the University of Karlsruhe, who drew his inspiration from a poem by Christian Morgenstern.

According to Stümpke’s account, the snouters were discovered on the main island of Hiddudify in 1941 by the Swedish explorer Einar Pettersson-Skämtkvist when he landed on the island trying to escape spies in WW2. Unfortunately, as a consequence of atomic bomb testing, the islands suddenly sank into the ocean in the late 1950s. Thus perished all traces of the snouters, their unique ecosystem, and all the world’s specialists on that intriguing subject — who happened to be holding their congress there at the time.

Although the first widely available report on these creatures was Stümpke’s book (1957), an early reference to them is found in Christian Morgenstern’s poem Das Nasobem (“The Nasobame”, 1905).The Great Morgenstern’s Nasobame (Nasobema lyricum), a dog-size animal that walked on four snouts, was named in the poet’s honor.

Check it Out:
Cafe Nasobem
Frobenstrasse 2, Basel

European Children’s Nightmare Before X-mas, and the Black Man Who Makes it Happen

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I have been learning about a Swiss tradition around Christmas time. On December 6, people celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. Adults dress like Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, and give out sweets and other treats to good kids. What happens to bad kids? More on that later.

I was talking about this Swiss tradition to a fellow school parent and friend, who is from The Hague. He told me the Dutch have a similar tradition, but they do their Santa Claus-ing on December 5. And in the Dutch custom, Santa has a side-kick, a grown-up muscled enforcer, who deals with bad kids. The name of Santa’s not-so-little helper? Zwarte Piet. Which translates into… Black Pete. The legend has it that Black Pete was a devil captured by Saint Nicholas, shackled and made his slave.

So maybe you’re thinking, gee, that could possibly be construed as well, maybe a little racist.

One more thing: The Dutch person accompanying Santa Claus as Black Pete is in black face.

I told this story to other parents at school, who nodded knowingly and then told me the Swiss do the same. They said Switzerland’s Black Pete is also the Bad Cop to Santa’s Good Cop. The person dressed like Santa Claus and the person in black face dressed like Black Pete stalk the streets on December 6, saintly Santa handing out goodies while Black Pete chases bad children around with a broomstick.

If only it stopped there.

According to Swiss lore, Black Pete’s work really begins after he says good night to Santa Claus. It is then that Black Pete goes full Charles Bronson, meting out his own brand of vigilante justice to naughty children. He hunts down and grabs the children from their homes, neighborhoods and streets — he will find every bad kid — and drags them into the forest. And then things truly turn Nightmare Before Christmas.

Picture a criminally insane, psychotic, mad-dog-angry, hell-bent-on-destruction, Scrooge-bitter bad-ass motherfucker pumped on steroids, jacked on PCP, paint thinner, and crystal meth, with an insatiable rage and a mandate to Do Whatever It Takes to punish the naughty. No child is coming out of that forest the same as when they went in.

Hope you’ve been good. Happy Saint Nicholas Day.