actually, i was healing quite nicely until the Second Flooding of the Basement, just before vacation. as i was frantically bailing out the ankle-deep wasteland of our storage/wash-room i felt something crunch in my knee. actually, it was more like a grinding screaming sort of pop-clicking excruciating agony that caused my testicles to ascend into my thorax and rendered me blind for a good twenty minutes. every subsequent step i took felt like the inside of my joint was lined with gravel and broken glass. since then i haven't been able to walk much without the knee popping, locking and clicking--so, naturally, i was worried that the Get Fresh Crew might be living inside me (it's possible, right? i mean, have you seen them around lately?). the doctor ordered up an MRI which revealed that i did not, in fact, tear the new meniscus, nor do i have B-Boy-on-the-knee. everything looked good. but since there is clearly something wrong, he wants to take a look inside with a little scope tomorrow. hopefully it's just one of the sutures rubbing up against the bone or something else really easy to fix. i'll know more this time tomorrow. i'll also have a renewed subscription to Percocet Monthly.
in the meantime, let's think of happier things. let's think about Mr Nice Guy's Summer Vacation to Heerlen and Bad Neuenahr (that's bad meaning good, not bad meaning bad). we flew to Koln, which is pronounced "Cologne," not "Koln," even though i have owned Keith Jarrett's Koln concert on LP and CD for more than a decade and have not once, apparently, pronounced its title correctly. i thought they were two different cities. don't even ask me how i pronounce Tuscon.
anyway, we flew into germany so we could spend two days in the netherlands before returning to germany. makes perfect sense, right? so we went to Heerlen, which is my baby mama's mother's motherland. the best part about going to this teensy corner of europe's nerther-regions? my wife's uncle runs a family restaurant. Auberge du Rousch. it's in an old farm house. and it's their home. and the food is delicious -- go there at once! and it's also impossibly quaint and gorgeous. i mean ... look:
toddler bonus: there's also a feral rooster running around the property. and aggressive geese. my daughter loved frolicking among all these wild birds, although i am not sure the feeling was reciprocated. she got to pet the banty houseguest, although he submitted grudgingly. the geese by the pond actually moved in for an attack when she was feeding them bread. the girl wasn't afraid, but i was fully prepared to sacrifice her if needed in a last-ditch sprint to preserve my own self. sophie's choice should only have been this easy. mean honking fuckers, they were.
but enough about fowl. the days spent in holland were leisurely, filled with family and food. and wine. and fun. but it was not our final destination. after having flown exceptionally well and adjusted reasonably to the time difference, the kid was packed up again and taken back into germany.
we arrived in bad neuenahr and suddenly found ourselves in some weird parallel universe where everyone is 87 years old, german and waiting patiently to die. BN is an ancient spa town where for hundreds of years germans with dropsy would make pilgrimages to take the waters. to this day it remains a hot spot among ailing octogenarian Teutons. i prayed that the senile saxons would not sniff out my child's jewish blood and have flashbacks to the '30s -- i mean, had she survived the rabid dutch geese only to suffer a much more sinister fate? i urged my wife not to mention the war.
despite the cultish fervor with which everyone visited the thermal baths, the town was quite lovely. here's is the main bath house:
napoleon himself is said to have dipped in her waters. so who were we to scoff at the preponderance of wheelchairs, walkers and sagging kraut-flesh? mrs nice guy and i figured that when in bad neuenahr, one must do what the bad neuenahrians do: TAKE THE WATERS!!!! so we booked ourselves some massages and eagerly anticipated our dip in the famed thermal bath. it promised to be a "Symphony of the Senses."
and indeed it was! once inside, the place was straight out of the belle epoque. stunningly gorgeous, a tad antiseptic, yet a spa in the true, old school meaning of the word. mrs nice guy booked herself a "classic massage." that struck me as too easy, unadventurous. me? i simply couldn't resist the item on the menu called, tantalizingly, the "4o-minute red wine massage" administered by "Frau Julia." so i signed up for one of those. oenophile though i am, there was a very large part of me dreading that this germanic red wine massage would culminate in a blood-crimson colonic irrigation administered by a stocky black-clad matronly dominatrix. and probably lots of crying. by me. i was brave anyway and showed up at my appointment, prepared to have Frau Julia work all the kinks out of my damaged id. with red wine.
this is the hall you walk down to get to your massage. imposing much?:
incidentally, that's not a real person sitting in that chair reading a magazine. i thought she was an actual human. she scared the daylights out of me. Frau Julia, thankfully, was not as frightening. nor was she wearing black. stocky, yes, but young. and firm. there was no high colonic, nor was there a happy ending. i briefly entertained vague hopes that things might take a swinging turn ("my, you're the youngest client i've had in about 38 years!") but in fact i was really, very uncomfortably naked under her stern gaze as she worked me over with her powerful forearms.
the only red wine i saw was the glass i drank before hand. there was a lotion that smelled vaguely of cabernet, but otherwise, i got ripped off.
or so i thought! after our massages, mrs nice guy and i checked out the pool. the thermal pool. what a pool! hugh hefner himself could plan a party in this pool. tell me this isn't the most-swinging late-belle epoque groovy sex-pool you've ever seen:
i sense there may have been some remodeling at the bad neuenahr thermal bath as recently as 1978. heretical! anyway, the water was very warm and surprisingly reinvigorating. we swam for about an hour. we emerged from the waters feeling all tingly and new. then we read a sign that said it was strenuously advised that bathers spend NO MORE THAN 15 MINUTES in the water ... because it has high levels of radiation.
so now my semen glows in the dark. oh well.
the kid liked the spa too. she liked the village, filled with elders (most of whom looked at us like we had three heads). mostly she liked the "thomas choo-choo" that ran through the town every 40 minutes. she liked it so much that she cried big heavy tears and screamed great squawks of despair every time it drove by and we didn't let her on it ... which was every time it went by except once.
here she is staging a protest. THIS FRIGGIN TRAIN ISN'T GOING ANYWHERE UNTIL I AM ON IT. GODDAMN IT, DO ANY OF YOU DEAF GROWNUP JERKS HEAR ME?!
the food was delicious. one night we all went to a restaurant that was supposed to be Very German and uber-authentic (as they say) and filled basement-to-attic with meat and beer. i was excited. at least i THOUGHT i was excited until i got there and i saw the menu. then i truly knew the meaning of the word. check out the special of the evening:
A HALF METER OF BRATWURST! do you have any idea how much sausage that is, my non-metric understanding children? i myself was vaguely aware that it was Not a Small Amount of Bratwurst, but i ordered it anyway because it also came with a pile of sauerkraut, a mountain of potatoes, a beer and a shot of weird german firewater. i placed the order, which elicited gasps of horror from my gentle dutch in-laws. here's what arrived at my table:
here is the waitress placing it before me as onlookers look on in disgust and admiration:
i ate the whole thing. and i seriously contemplated ordering another. but i restrained myself because i was after all in a land of people known for their restraint.
after a big fat pig-centric meal like that, one must go for a walk. so mrs nice guy and her aunt and uncle and i went the following day on a Rotweinwanderweg. which is german for Red Wine Wandering.
you see, the part of germany we were in is called the Ahr region -- which is more famous as the birthplace of pirating (Ahhhhrrr!) than it is known outside of germany as a small wine growing region. it's not really known outside of germany as a wine-growing region because they drink all of the wine they make before they can export it. that's no joke. these people make wine that's too good to share with the rest of the world.
on our Red Wine Wandering, we ended up at these old cloisters where old german nuns of yore apparently used to hike up their skirts and stomp on grapes. the cloisters are still there -- artfully decaying among the pinot vines:
so after our walk we sauntered into the main building and had ourselves a wine tasting. and did some wine drinking. which got us to thinking: what is it about european monks and nuns? they made the best hooch.
let's see. what else did we do? we went on a boat tour down the rhine. it required a 2 hour train ride, 3 hours of sitting on a boat and the total loss of whatever sanity our daughter had until that point retained, but it was beautiful. the rhine river is lined with lovely old castles. you don't get to actually get off the boat and walk around them on the abridged tour we took, but it was worth it for two main reasons.
one: we got to see the loreley, the great rock where dwell the rhine sirens who, with their song, lure unsuspecting sailors to their watery grave. which makes you think: probably not the best spot to float by on your family boat-tour. but we made it past the loreley alive. here she is:
the other draw? we got to see Assmann's house
i always wondered where he lived. good old Assman. his house is apparently a very popular spot to visit:
we also went to a big wine festival that a neighboring town throws every year. at least we thought it was a wine festival until we got there and learned that ... it was a german Renaissance Faire. Renaissance Faires are about as cringe inducing in germany as they are in northern massachusetts, only in german. but all was forgiven once we were greeted to the sixteenth century by this welcoming committee of one:
hello, piglet. can't wait to eat you! while you roast on your spit, however, i think we'll cruise the grounds. waiting for that scrumptious looking swine to cook, we drank some wine. witnessed some displays of archery derring-do. we drank more wine. saw some german sword fighting. drank. listened to some excellent bagpiping.
whhhhaaaa? german bagpipes? pass the haggis!
whatever. der kinder enjoyed it. she also enjoyed her first taste of proper german sausage. it's all good when there's bratwurst in the hood:
3 hours later, our friend Babe still wasn't fully cooked, so we had to take our leave of Ye Olde German Faire without having had a proper taste. bye bye, little swine of mine:
that's about it. traveling with a kid is easier when you have grandparents and cousins and uncles and even a great grandmother in the mix. we still did a lot of stuff that we would have been doing had we just stayed in brooklyn: some time in the (nonradioactive) public pool, a lot of playground action, slow walks to nowhere in particular, fussy meals, dvds.
oh, a word about european playgrounds: THEY ARE AWESOME. clearly they are a less litigious people, those europeans. more concerned with fun and design than they are with child safety. i'm all for it. check out this thing -- the greatest invention in the history of playgrounds. you sit on the little red seat and it glides down a long, sloping cable--james bond-style--until you reach the end and it hits a giant spring, sending the seat flying up in the air. you only keep from falling off by clinging for dear life--no seatbelts on this continent. check it out:
wheeee! i actually muscled my way through a pack of patiently waiting 6 year olds to ride this thing over and over and over again. i don't think i've ever had this much fun in my life.
and neither did the daughter. after our time was up in germany, we spend another day in holland. she got to go on a trampoline for the first time. a trampoline! in a public park! would never happen in new york. (next to the park was a little flock of grazing sheep. that's right, sheep! you could actually hear my daughter's mind totally blowing a gasket as we rolled up to the playground. "baa-baa! baa-baa in da playground!" there was also a tunnel. she couldn't freakin' believe her luck.) after a few very cautious initial outings, the trampoline proved to be a hit too.
whooooo! she cried big sloppy tears of sadness and betrayal when we made her put her shoes back on. but it was time to head home. it was time to get ready to get back on the airplane.
after 10 great days and another a long, long journey -- a two hour drive followed by a nine hour flight and a taxi ride to brooklyn from newark -- she was really, really happy to get back. "dat's my house!" she shouted as the cab pulled up. bless. she ran in and greated the cats enthusiastically. she ran up and down the stairs. home. it was warm and happy and comfortable and sweet.
mostly, though, she was really stoked to see all her friends again. i think they were glad to see her too.