Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Pieces of Dresden

Pieces of Dresden
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
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"Let’s go on a day trip tomorrow,” I suggest.

“Where were you thinking?” Doug asks.

“Dresden,” I reply.

“Dresden?” Doug furrows his brows. “Didn’t it get bombed to hell and back?”

“Yes, but they rebuilt everything. It looks exactly how it did before the war.”

“Really? How?”

I shrug. “They’re Germans.”


The next morning, Doug and I wake up early and board a train to Dresden. It’s Sunday and it’s Germany, which means the usual shops are closed, but when we walk into the Altmarkt square through the Erzgebirge Christmas pyramid, we find the Striezelmarkt awake and lively.

The Striezelmarkt was first documented back in 1434, making it one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets.

Almost as old as the market is the bread sold here—Stollen, a dense fruitcake-type bread coated with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

Here’s a nerdy culinary fact for you: before Stollen became available in the 15th century, bakers were only allowed to use oil (not butter) during the Advent season, which was a time when all good Catholics were expected to fast. This did not sit well with a certain Saxon prince whose name I can’t remember, so let’s call him Ed. Ed wrote to the Pope in Rome and begged him to allow butter during the holiday season. Because Ed couldn’t come right out and tell the Pope that bread baked without butter tasted like bird droppings, he had to argue his case with more palatable bullet points: oil was expensive, hard to come by, and had to be made from turnips (apparently no one liked turnips back then, either). Ed’s request was rejected five times before the Pope finally caved—but only partially. The verdict: only Ed and his noble family could use butter for bread. No one else. Let the peasants eat turnip bread, in other words. Thus, Stollen was born, and although it’s not the Stollen we know today (which is probably a good thing, despite the questionable decision to add raisins to the recipe somewhere along the way), it has, nevertheless, endured throughout the centuries. Stollen is so popular, in fact, that Dresden holds a Stollenfest every year, right before Christmas. The ceremony includes bringing the Stollen via carriage to the Striezelmarkt, where it is then cut into serviceable pieces by the Great Holy Stollen Knife of Dresden (or something to that effect).

The first thing I do at Striezelmarkt is find a booth selling Stollen and hand over my Euros to the disinterested girl manning the booth. The bread is heavy, thick, and wrapped in plastic sealed with a sticker picturing the city’s favorite king, Augustus II the Strong (the “Strong” moniker deriving from the king’s favorite pastime of breaking horseshoes with his bare hands—the eighteenth century’s version of crushing beer cans, I guess).

Bread in tow, Doug and I walk around the Striezelmarkt booths and peruse their other offerings—wood ornaments, candle pyramids, nutcrackers, mulled wine, and Pflaumentoffel, which are miniature men made out of prunes. The prune men are supposed to be chimney sweeps, but they look more like satanic clowns dressed in Goodyear tires. No thanks. Still, satanic prune clowns aside, it is a relief to be back at a German Christmas market with its handmade products and authentic cuisine. It has none of the phony baloney stuff like in Prague. It’s a night and day difference.

It’s more kid-friendly, too. At the center of the market is an area devoted entirely for children, with a puppet theater, a merry-go-round, a children’s railway, a prune chimney sweep’s cottage for arts and crafts, and a bakery for kneading dough. For the second time on our trip, I begin to wish my kids were here. Something tickles at my heart when I picture Kaya on the train, his blond head bobbing up and down as he waves with a mittened hand, or London in the cottage, piecing together scraps of construction paper to make an ornament.

Then, I remember that my kids aren’t really kids anymore, and would probably spend their time here doing what they did everywhere else—that is, looking at their phones and complaining about being hungry.

There is also the very real probability that my children would die of hypothermia before we ever made it to Striezelmarkt, because neither one of them, to the best of my knowledge, have ever voluntarily worn coats. It is an ongoing battle—albeit, not one that I fight often (we live in Texas, after all)—but one fought often enough to incite rage when I think about it.

For example, it could be thirty degrees and London will walk out of the house wearing Birkenstocks and booty shorts.

“London, wear pants.”

“It’s not cold!” she’ll argue through chattering teeth.

“Put your boots on!”

“I’m fine!” she’ll insist as her toes turn blue and fall off.


London will let out a big huff, walk back inside, and slam the door with the kind of exaggerated indignation that can only be yielded by perpetually menstruating teenage girls.

But at least London makes an attempt to leave the house. If you can get my son moving without repeatedly threatening his life or his access to WiFi, you’re a better parent than I.

“Kaya, put your shoes on, we’re about to go.”

“Okay,” he says, not moving.

Two minutes later. “Kaya, we’re leaving. Put your shoes on.”

“Okay.” (stays still as a rock)

Minutes later. “Kaya, now!”

He looks up. “What?”

“We’re leaving!”

“We are?” He looks confused, as if I had told him that a Russian SS-20 missile was being launched from his bedroom.

“Yes. Put your shoes on!” I insist.

“Oh. Okay.”

The struggle is real.

I remember all of this, and suddenly I am okay to be here without my children.
Friday, February 8, 2019

Bad at Math

Bad at Math
Friday, February 8, 2019
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Woman Sitting Near Wall

I woke up from a nightmare that I was back in 5th grade taking a math test.

The reason this is significant is because my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Griffin, divided up the class in terms of how well we did at math. Group 1 rocked it, Group 2 needed additional help. It was humiliating after every math test, she made a list of kids who underperformed, and when she called out their names, they’d have to drag their desk over to Group 2, the metal legs screeching loudly on the way to Loserville.

I never left Group 2 until Ms. Griffin decided to put me in my own special group, Group 3. She pleaded weekly with the counselor, “put Erin in the dumb-dumb classes. She doesn’t belong here.” But they couldn’t bc I tested “gifted” and thus expected to attend all advanced classes. Thus Ms. Griffin was stuck with the sole occupant of Group 3 and I was stuck sitting isolated in the front of the classroom as if my close proximity to the chalkboard would somehow make up for my shitty math genes. It never occurred to Ms. Griffin that I was worth more than a test score.

Anyway whenever I’m about to embark on something in my life that I’ve never done before, or is outside my wheelhouse, I have dreams about taking a math test in fifth grade. I suppose it’s a scar that’s never gone away.

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