Relax. Life's too stressed out.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cows, kind of.

Posted: 2005-10-23T13:06:28Z

Source:
Right. So, on Monday morning I set off from Konstanz to Bad Schussenried, a small town in Swabia which is the closest railway station to Dürnau, where I was going. I took the ferry to Meersburg, a regional bus to Friedrichshafen, and a train to Bad Schussenried (the train went through Ravensburg, which among other things is where all the developmentally correct German board games we played as children came from). It was a very pretty trip. I was met at the station by a cheerful Polish girl named Agata, and we went straight to the pasture to milk the cows. Except only one cow, an ancient and all-wise matriarch named Beauty, is actually milking at the moment, and she's what one of James Herriot's Yorkshire farmers would call a "two-titted 'un," so it was actually like milking a very large and patient goat. Of the other four, one is a heifer, two are pregnant and I don't know what the other one's excuse is.

From there we went back to the main building, in the town of Dürnau proper, and had a catch-as-catch-can lunch, at which point I learned that the "cooperative" doesn't observe Summer Time. It was at this point that it became clear that I had, in fact, stumbled into another nest of Steinerite nuttiness. (Apologies to the one disciple of Steiner who may be reading this, and who is nutty in a good way.) I really need to learn to trust my gut and realize that when a place is described as a holistic cooperative, I probably don't want to be there. However, what the description in the WWOOF list had not made clear was that the place wasn't really a farm at all. It said they had 16 sheep; I saw no evidence of sheep. (At one point they also had pigs and goats, which they got rid of.) It said that the cows were part of their efforts at self-sufficiency; I saw absolutely no proof of any efforts at self-sufficiency - they went grocery shopping and ate yogurt out of plastic containers and fruit from the produce section like anybody else; there were a few jars of preserves scattered about, but I do that in my apartment kitchen in New Haven. And everybody mainlines coffee and smokes like chimneys (in fact, the main use for the 5 liters a day of milk Beauty gives is to go into mugs of coffee - the WWOOF ad mentioned butter-making, but no butter was made while I was there). One of the other ventures that a member of the cooperative is involved in is a transport company that shuttles tourists in vans to the various airports and railroad stations in the area - not exactly sustainable, even if the vans run on biodiesel which I have no evidence they do. Most crucially, the WWOOF ad gave the impression of a farm with some other activities attached, which you could choose to participate in or not; the reality was a cooperative business venture with a few cows, where if you didn't want to be titanically bored and feel useless and liked you were eating for free, you ended up working in the printing press most of the day, collating German newsletters for Anthroposophist groups.

At least the crazy people on the Vermont farm two years ago really tried to walk the walk.

I'm making it sound like they deliberately duped me into coming, which I'm sure wasn't true; they were all very nice, and I learned a fair amount of German, and taken as a cultural experience it wasn't too bad. But as a farm-learning experience it was pretty darn frustrating. One can't really learn to milk in a week, because you need time for your fingers to get strong (I think concert pianists and violinists should take up milking as cross-training immediately); I definitely made progress, but there's no way I could milk a cow and strip her completely by myself at this point, especially if she was going on all four cylinders. And apart from the afternoon I arrived, which we spent mucking out a cow stall and piling the resultant muck in a compost pile, I really didn't do anything farm-related except 20 minutes of milking each morning.

In addition, it was cold as all ****, and one characteristic of self-sufficiency that WAS in evidence was that the place was heated almost entirely by wood stoves - when it was heated at all. The living quarters were spartan, to say the least - the cooperative owned several buildings in various parts of the town, none of which were in very good shape. Now, I realize that people trying to live according to their principles frequently have very little money and have to do building projects in fits and starts. However, the cooperative has existed for twenty-five years, and it seems that in that time they could possibly have done more than put in some new offices and bathrooms in the printing shop, and refurbish one room in the Hauptgebäude*. The latter is an old stucco building that's lost the outside trim on its windows and has plaster falling off in various places, and the dining room still has a hole in the ceiling where a wall was torn out, and in fact the windows were replaced while I was there, which entailed knocking large numbers of bricks out from around the old ones. The hall was full of construction materials and the kitchen was shabby in the extreme. Meanwhile, the building where I slept was heated by one little stove whose chimney went up through my room, which meant that on the two nights that a fire was actually lit (my housemate didn't seem to understand that when I told him I'd like a fire in the evenings because I liked to be warm, I meant in general) it was bearable, while on the others it was freezing (the weather was cold and misty the whole week, though the afternoons were usually sunny); and the house was generally shabby, dusty and depressing.

Now I realize I have my own unique tastes and that most people aren't as dependent on having clean, attractive surroundings as I am. But would it be too much to ask that a farmhouse make some attempt to be, like, cozy? I mean, again, they may not have much money, but patchwork and curtains and well-chosen used furniture don't cost much. Of course, it isn't really a farm anyway - the cows are a 10-minute drive away. In fact, what's ironic is that in the immediate vicinity of the Hauptgebäude are: 2 cow barns (confined cows, not so cool); 3 horse pastures; a henhouse with a yard where pigmy goats also hang out; two large vegetable gardens; and various people who spend a lot of time driving around on tractors with wagons. I saw all this when I went for a walk, and I spent some time throwing windfall apples to the horses in one pasture (they got electric shocks from the fence when I tried to feed them from my hand). But I couldn't participate.

This meant that I spent most of the week fantasizing about how I would do things if I were in charge. And the horse farm in Singen-Uberlingen am Ried that I was planning to visit in May. When I got home yesterday and looked at the map, I realized that said horse farm is in fact probably a €4 bus ride away, so I emailed the guy asking if I could muck out stalls in exchange for riding and learning to drive.

The saving grace of the Dürnau Cooperative was that the food was a lot better than at the Egg Farm. On Tuesday we had a yummy goulash with beef from a previous year's bull calf, and the night before I left we had salmon trout from the lake, mm.

When I retraced my steps Saturday morning, it was the first really clear morning since I'd gotten here, and when I emerged from the Friedrichshafen Stadtbahnhof* and found the stop for bus 7395, I casually turned around in the process of trying to wrangle my luggage, and ...

... was face to face with the Alps.

It's quite a sensation: "oh right, that's not a low line of cloud ... that's the tops of the mountains." I stared at them from the bus stop, and then the bus went along the lake and the ferry went across it and more and more mountains kept unfolding from behind the ridges, until I could see a long line of them all the way into Austria and beyond.

One is so used to thinking (in a casual neocolonial white-man's-burden kind of way) of America as a young continent and Europe as an old one, that one forgets how old the Appalachians are compared to the Alps.

I need to read 1491.

*main building.
*city train station (as distinct from the airport train station).

Sunday, October 23, 2005

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Posted: 2005-07-16T18:50:21Z

Source:

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Smartie!

Posted: Wed, 14 Sep 2005 15:02:11 GMT

Source:
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Believe it or not, this is a smartie. What does it remind you of? My guesses are behind the cut because I don't want you to be influenced :P

At first I thought it was a giraffe, but now I think it's actually No-Face from Spirited Away.

NATION IN BRIEF

Posted: Sat, 22 Oct 2005 00:00:00 EDT

Source: NEW YORK -- A three-alarm fire in a subway storage room in Manhattan disrupted the morning commute for tens of thousands straphangers and injured 13 firefighters.