Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I brake for Bears / California, USA

We don't have any dangerous animals in Germany. Not a single one.
Here in the US you can stumble upon a bear just beside the road.

I was visiting the Grand Sequoia National Park and saw a few cars standing in the middle of the road. I stopped and realized that there are two bears in the nearby trees - a big one and a cub. Real bears!

Amazing to see the big clumsy animals climbing on small branches and to hear their noises.

First I was a bit reluctant to leave my car because in the end they were bears and not little kittens. But then I saw a family of heavily overweight tourists jumping out of their car and running around.
Because a clever bear probably prefers a bunch of 'super-size tourist burgers' to a 'skinny-European-snack' I decided to step out as well to shoot some photos - and I survived.

One of the smaller Sequoia trees. Compare it with the size of the house.

After all the very impressing trees in the park the bears were the topping on a spectacular day. Guys, your country is really beautiful.

Little Differences, Part 4: Saber Rattles / San Francisco, USA

I was sitting in the grass on Union Square. My head was almost empty and I felt wonderfully tired while watching the busy people around me.

I can imagine several ways of being wakened from this nice stand-by-mode.
There are nice ones, mediocre ones and nasty awakenings.

The nice interruptions include the scent of fresh coffee or a lovely voice whispering cute words into my ear.
Mediocre wake-up procedures include voices like 'Sorry Sir, you are standing on my foot for 5 minutes' or the sound of the leaving bus you just missed.
The awful ones definitely include the roaring thunder of fighter jets raging over your head in such a low altitude that you could think 'Maverick' out of the old movie 'Top Gun' finally decided to commit suicide because he killed his friend 'Goose' (or just because he didn't manage to drag the cute Kelly McGillis into his bed).

Guess what - lucky me got the nasty one.

The fighters circled directly above the heart of San Francisco and their engines screamed 'Good morning McFly, somebody home?' into my ears. Aaargh!
First I thought that another 9/11 situation was going on. I was really scared for some seconds. Then I watched around and saw some of the passers-by grin and even clap their hands.

I asked them what the fuzz is about and they told me that it is just a rehearsal for the annual flight day in the near future.

They practice 50 meters above a big city? They practice flying so close to each other that one pilot could count the hairs in the nose of his pal? Gosh. Yes, I know the noses of the pilots are covered with oxygen masks but I like idea, though.

In Germany there would never ever be such a pseudo-masculine demonstration of power right above the heart of a metropolis. Apart of it I still can remember the big air show accident some years ago in the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany.
We have a completely different relationship to our army 'Bundeswehr'.

Probably I am full of prejudices about military in the US. Maybe after 9/11 it is good for a wounded nation to see that the big boys are taking care of the citizens.

In the end it was just one of the little differences I noticed.
Keep it as a secret but I have to admit it looked damn cool.

I could imagine the pilots leaving their planes in this Hollywood-movie-slow-motion kind of walking. I hope the pilots didn't spoil their coolness with statements like 'Icemen you are not bad up in the air but you should shave your nose'.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ice Cream Rules / Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

My home base for visiting the Grand Canyon was a lovely, sleepy little town called Flagstaff. It was very relaxing and 'real' after the fake world of horrible Las Vegas.
The center of my Hostel was a room with a big wooden table and folks gathered around it every evening.
One day a traveler donated a big bucket of ice cream to the public. Whenever a new guest entered the room there was a question like 'Oh, is this ice cream for free?' and one of us would answer 'Yes, Paul, the Australian guy donated it. Help yourself."

It was fun to sit around the table munching ice cream but nevertheless I thought it could be even more interesting. So I changed the conversation a bit.

New traveler: 'Oh, is this ice cream for free?'
Rest of us: 'Kind of. It is free but you have to contribute a song. Sing us one of your favorite songs.'
New traveler: 'What do you mean? You want me to sing? Sing loud and stuff?'
Rest of us: 'You got it. By the way - the ice cream is delicious. Go ahead, the stage is yours.'

One can imagine a few possible answers of the new traveler. For example:
a) That is ridiculous. I will not sing for ice cream.
b) I don't know any songs by heart.
c) How old are you? Eight or nine?
d) Well, you will not like it but if you insist I can do it.

Guess what - d) was the only answer. I was amazed and we had a great time listening to weird sounding chants and I am sure that even the artists liked performing.

The bucket was already almost empty when a Japanese guy entered the room. I saw him before but he was very shy and didn't talk to anyone so far. Obviously he was embarrassed of his poor English. As soon as he saw that strange things were going on he was about to leave but we stopped him. He was even more shy than before.
It took us a while to explain him the ice cream rule and I thought that he would never ever sing in public.

Then the most unlikely thing happened. He started smiling and gave answer e).

e) I can't sing. Can I play a song instead?

Before we were able to nod he vanished and came back with a big suitcase. It was an traditional Japanese instrument looking like a simple guitar. He told us that he is going to play a traditional song and started browsing a text book with funny looking Japanese stuff in it.

During the next minutes the hostel was full of sounds I never heard before and we all applauded enthusiastically.

The Japanese guy stayed with us the rest of the evening. Although he didn't say much he had an expression in his face that looked like f).

f) I have an Japanese instrument with me but I am to shy to play in public. Isn't it quite obvious that I am a musician that wants to share his music? Come on, please ask me to play.

I would have never thought that there could be a f) answer but people tend to surprise me almost every time.

@Mehi and Jaydeep: I am still grinning every time I am confronted with the word 'meditation'.