Here is a slideshow of pictures I took in Egypt: Cairo, Alexandria, Ancient stuff, and people. The music is Amal Hayati by Umm Kulthum (translated lyrics here). More info on the pictures can be found in my Picasa album. Enjoy!
Hi there, folks. Back to blogging after a hiatus during which I traipsed through Germany with a friend, spending a few days at Documenta 13, er, dOCUMENTA (13). Traveling to Kassel means stopping at the Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe train station. For some boring reason having to do with train scheduling or something, you have to stop at this station on the outkirts of the city and then take a train into the central station.
The main feature of the Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe Bahnhof (g) as it's called, is that IT SUCKS. More to the point, there are no elevators or escalators in the station. To reach the main station from the train tracks, you have to drag your luggage up a gradual, seemingly endless ramp. There are also stairs available, but these are cleverly hidden behind the ramps. But either way, you're going to have to schlep yourself, your screaming kids, and your heavy luggage. In this era of wheeled luggage, I can only imagine how many Eisenstein-esque scenes have played out on those giant ramps, with giant luggage, wheelchairs, or baby strollers barreling down the ramp, taking out hapless passengers right and left.
Another wonderful feature of the giant ramps is that they block out most of the central part of the platform, so that the only way to find out where your train car is positioned on the train is to walk all the way to one fucking end of the platform, inspect the train-car diagram, and then walk all the way back to where your car will be. During every Documenta, hundreds of thousands of foreign guests arrive at this train station and curse the stupidity and self-indulgence of the architect, while snorting at the storied 'efficiency' of Germans.
When I got home, I vowed to find out what pretentious little twit had designed those giant ramps, so as to publicly execrate him. The Wikipedia entry for the train station informs me that one 'Büro Dietrich, Waning, Guggenberger' was responsible for the ramp design. But, it turns out, they had no choice. Apparently the Deutsche Bundesbahn, back in the 1980s, ordered the creation of these giant ramps to make it possible to drive cars and trucks to the trains. Why they required this feature in a train station that would mainly be used by humans is beyond me. Don't they have fucking freight yards for that?!
In any event, the Bundesbahn's design has created what has to be the ugliest, most inconvenient train station in Western Europe. If I were a killin' man, I would tie the faceless bureaucrat who ordered those ramps to a brakeless wheelchair and push him down them again and again and again, while cackling gleefully.
The theme here, as German-speakers will have immediately noticed, is playing cards: Trumpf = trump, and Ass = ace. But then the oily-haired marketing types pepped up the stodgy hotel's image with some of that sickeningly hip English. Today's Austrian 'Familys' deserve no less!
One simple rule for ad-men, delivered free of charge: If you start a phrase or sentence in German, for G$d's sake finish it in German.
Once in a very long while I'll get one of those 'CRAZY AMERICAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!!' emails* from some German. The emails typically contain a mishmash of accurate, semi-truthful, ludicrously distorted, and completely false stories of wacky lawsuits those crazy Americans file. To see which ones you might have fallen for lately, go here.
I usually don't bother to respond, except perhaps to inform the hapless producerist Teuton that he is, as often as not, forwarding corporate propaganda created by the PR departments of scary multinational corporations. But in the spirit of the best defense is a good offense, I'm compiling my own list of CRAZY GERMAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!! for my readers to trade and collect. And because I actually know (basically) how to research German law**, I can guarantee you every single one of these lawsuits actually happened.
The latest installment comes to me courtesy of Ed Philp, and involves a case (g) decided by the highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof, which sits in Karlsruhe. It involves a couple on a one-week bargain-basement package vacation to Turkey, all-expenses-paid, which cost a measly €369 per person. The travel agency specified in the terms & conditions that it could change the timing of the flight back, which they did, moving it from 4 in the afternoon to 6 in the morning of the same day. The two people on the trip would get picked up from their hotel at 1:30 AM instead of 12 noon. So they lost about 10 hours of their vacation. Mind you, the travel agency had given them warning and arranged transportation -- they weren't being stranded, helpless, among the Ottoman hordes. Plus, the agency paid the couple €42 compensation.
So, all in all, a moderate inconvenience, especially given how cheap the vacation was. But if you think the travelers left it at that, you are underestimating (1) how seriously Germans take their vacations, and (2) how many self-righteous malcontents there are among them who are just waiting to pounce on minor misunderstandings which they can elevate into scorched-earth legal jihads. Don't forget that Germany is one of the most, if not the most, lawsuit-happy societies in the world.
Instead of taking the travel agency's earlier flight, the couple decided to book their own flight back, then file a lawsuit against the travel agency asking for:
Reinbursement of the entire cost of the trip minus 70 € for accommodation provided, reimbursement of 504.52 € for transport back to Germany, and compensation for wasted vacation time (nutzlos aufgewendete Urlaubszeit) in the amount of 480.80 € for the first plaintiff and 2,193,10 € for her companion (my italics).
So 10 hours cut off an ultra-cheap holiday has now turned into a legal battle involving a request for 10 times the per-person cost of the entire trip. And when I say battle, I actually mean 'war'. The couple lost at the first phase, the local court in Düsseldorf. Doubtless sighing inwardly in exasperation and wondering what they had done in a previous life to deserve this job, the court awarded the coupld €25 off the price of the vacation and dismissed all the other claims. Doubtless outraged at this disgusting miscarriage of justice, the couple appealed to the higher regional court, the Landgericht, which also told them to f**k off denied their appeal.
Finally, they landed at Germany's highest civil court, known by its abbreviation BGH. After considering various aspects of German civil law and vacation law (yes, there's a special German law for vacations (g)), the nation's highest court decided that the couple may have actually had a claim for some of the extra damages, if they can prove that their resort to self-help was appropriate, and that they gave the travel agency a chance to correct the problem. The court remanded the case to the lower court to look into these questions.
Pause for a moment, if you will, and imagine the amount of resources the legal system devoted to this one case: hundreds of pages of briefing, the time and attention of probably something like 15 full-time judges -- including the highest civil court in the land -- and their attendant clerks and support staff, and the preparation and publication of at least three legal opinions -- so far. All because one couple lost 10 hours from a hideous tabloid-insert package vacation in some grotty Turkish beach hotel.
Now that's what I call a KRAZY LEGAL SYSTEM!!1!!1ONE!!***
Strolling through Istanbul is the sort of book you continue reading after you've left Istanbul, because you stumble upon gems like the following, during the book's leisurely description of Dolmabahce Palace (p. 422):
Evliya [Turkish chronicler Evliya Celebi] goes on to tell one of his astonishing stories about his unpredictable friend, Murat IV: "Sultan Murat IV happened once to be reading at Dolmabahce the satirical word Sohami of Nefii Efendi, when the lightning struck the ground near him: being terrified he threw the book into the sea, and then gave orders to Bayram Pasha to strangle the author Nefii Efendi."
Something makes Lebanon intensely photogenic. I suppose part of it is the fact that I grew up hearing the names of various parts of Lebanon constantly on the news. Also, the juxtaposition of war damage and new construction is often extreme -- shiny, soulless new office building might be built on one lot, while right next door inheritance disputes or financing problems ensure a bullet-pocked shell stays put, quietly decaying. Finally, there's the famous Mediterranean light, which makes it such a joy to find a traditional stucco and red-tile building that has survived war and reconstruction. Those buildings seem designed to be seen in that light.
Here are some pictures I took there last week. You see mostly Beirut, but there are also pictures of Baalbek, Byblos, and a few other places here. As always, there are much bigger pics on my Picasa website.