11 May 2008


Tomorrow is Pfingsten. I have no idea what that means*, but it's a holiday all across Europe and I get the day off, so that's all that really matters.

Today was Mother's Day. We went to the Pfingstturnier in Wiesbaden-Biebrich. The Pfingstturnier is an international equestrian tournament which is held at the Schloss Biebrich (Biebrich Castle) on the banks of the River Rhein, in surroundings befitting the nobility who come to ride the horses. We -- the bourgeouis middle-class who pay to watch them ride horses -- admire the surroundings in an only-from-a-distance sorta way.

The first event was jumping. Actually, the first event was parking the cars. My neighbor dropped off his wife and kids, and I dropped off my kid with them. Then we went to park the cars. He works near the Schloss Beibrich, so he was familiar with the area. We drove slowly up and down the aisles of an Aldi (closed, of course, because it's Sunday and everything is closed) before my neighbor found a parking spot he thought was big enough for my Meriva. He had to literally coach me into the spot: turn the wheel, go forward, no no, back it up! straighten it out, that's it, there, now you've got it. Oh, have I? 'cause it still looks like I'm gonna hit that car... oh, okay, got it. I do not think I would be exaggerating to guess that it took close to 15 minutes to maneuver my car into this teensy parking space, and no I am not that terrible of a driver.

Then we walked up to the Schloss to meet his wife and our kids. Of course, whenever we walk anywhere together with even one kid, everyone assumes we are married to each other, which means I am free to flirt with any man I see with impugnity. If only I had my prescription Audrey Hepburn sunglasses (which I have ordered -- in tortoise, of course -- and which should be here any day now) I could have really worked it.

We bought walk-in only tickets, which meant throwing away 13€ when we realized we would need to pay for seats in the stands. The only way to see the jumpers jumping was to sit in the bleachers -- without seats, none of the children would have been able to see anything. So we got bleacher seats, and then struggled for 15 minutes to figure out where they were. I went to the security guard and asked her in my best German where our seats were. She took out her laminated seating chart, flipped it over and back a couple of times -- I'm not even sure she had it right-side up -- and then said, "over there, next to the center aisle" and waved in the general direction of all of the bleachers.

This is just another example of my vocabulary keeping me from understanding... well, anything. The tickets clearly had a "section," a "row," and a "seat." But all I noticed were the "row" and "seat" numbers, which meant that, after saying "entschuldigung" half a dozen times -- last to an elderly woman who seemed to have trouble just standing long enough to let us go by -- we were soon standing in the right row, staring at: the wrong seats.

But where were the right seats? It was completely unclear to us. We decided to stay put.

I had never seen a live equestrian event before. Even including the ones I've watched on TV, I've only seen one or two. It was actually pretty inspiring. The horses are so beautiful and listen so intently to their riders. It took me a few minutes to figure out the scoring (you want to finish faster than anyone else, but without taking any of the gates down -- and it quickly became clear no one wins ribbons just for being fastest, you have to have the fastest AND cleanest round), and a few minutes more to realize that the best riders come last, so that the times, and scores, kept improving as the event went on. The last rider was the only one from the US (which, phonetically, sounds like "dee Ooh Ess Ahh"). She had a perfect round, and was working on a respectable time, too, when on the very last gate her horse ticked a pole with his foot -- er, hoof, can you tell I'm not to-the-manor-born? -- and it fell down. A perfect round until the last gate! It was like blowing a no-hit game in the bottom of the ninth. It was so sad, and sadder for me than probably anyone else in the arena. Except, okay, for the rider herself. Well, I'm pretty sure there were other Americans there, and so one or two of them probably felt the same way.

I may need some time for a few of the stranger things to sink in. You know how when you go to a baseball game, you can buy baseball memorabilia? Trinkets, mostly, and some baseball clothing, like baseball shirts with the name of your team, or a pennant. Well, at horseback riding tournaments, you can apparently buy just about anything you damn well feel like buying. Expensive riding boots and other equestrian clothes. A professional Miehle washing machine. (No, I am not kidding.) Cheap costume jewelry or the expensive kind. Persol sunglasses! I got a little dizzy just thinking about what kind of people would buy Persol sunglasses on a whim while strolling the grounds between equestrian events. And of course, food. Every lovely, delicious kind of food you could imagine. And the über-sponsor for the entire event? Mercedes-Benz. So you could buy a Benz to match your Persol sunglasses. Oy.

Then there was the dog incident. The dog incident is one of the reasons I will never give my mother -- or my son's father -- the URL of this blog. Not that my mother knows what a URL -- or a blog -- is. But still.

As those of you who know me in real-life know, my son loves dogs. We both do. We have been without a dog for a little over two years now, unbelievably. I have had at least one dog, and as many as two dogs, for 35 of my 45 years on this planet, and my son had a dog for his entire life up until he was almost four years old. But then our beloved old man died, and the timing was such that it didn't make sense to get another dog right away. Then I was given the opportunity to take this international position through my company, and that didn't seem like a good time to get a dog. Now we are almost settled in here, but we may have to move back to the US in a year's time, so... it doesn't really seem like a good time to get a dog.

But man, we both miss having one around the house. The cats miss having a dog around, too.

So whenever my son sees a dog on the street, he is pulled to it like mass to a black hole. Or something. Anyway, he wants to pet every dog he sees, and most dogs are amenable to such. At the Pfingstturnier, he espied two such dogs, one a large-ish Bernese mountain-ish dog on a leash attached to an older woman of indeterminate age of the sort that I shall be before too long, the other a black Labrador on a leash attached to a somewhat younger woman, also of indeterminate age. The dogs seemed keen on being petted, but I hovered nervously nearby, knowing as I do that even nice dogs startle easily, and should always be treated with cautious respect.
But everything seemed fine. They seemed like friendly, easy-going dogs who like and are used to being petted by kids, and the ladies holding their leashes seemed completely unconcerned. And I had to get us some food, and he was having fun playing. So I left my son with the neighbors, warned him not to annoy the dogs, and told him I would be right back with a couple of bratwursts.

When I came back in five minutes, he was sitting in the middle of a circle of people with his shirt over his head, and he was sobbing, and everyone -- including the lady with the dog -- was trying to console him. It took me several minutes to get the whole story, but apparently he had been playing (nicely) with the dogs, and one of them had bitten him in the face. No blood, but the skin was broken, and the bite mark was awfully, awfully close to his eye. His owner swore that he had never bitten anyone before, ever. She seemed nearly as shocked and upset as I was (but not, I think, as upset as I would have been in similar circumstances).

I wanted to do something, something dramatic, like demand that the woman have her dog put down, but, well. It seemed a bit over the top. All I could really do was to pick my son up, wrap my arms around him, and hug him within an inch of his life while he howled away his pain and fear. He kept asking why the dog had bitten him, and all I could say was, "I don't know, honey. I don't know."

I expect that he will not trust strange dogs as much as he used to for a while, but I don't expect it to last very long. I, however, will never trust strange dogs again.

*Updated 16Au08 to say that "Pfingsten" translates to "Pentecost," so I guess this was Pentecost Day

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