Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Change is in the Air

Continuing what I mentioned in my previous post that it seems that Europeans were excited to fly back to the U.S., I have to say, I'm surprised at Obama's presence everywhere. While I was on the subway, a homeless (black) man got on and basically said this: "OBAMA! I am a Vietnam Vet! Hey, you're gorgeous! OBAMA! Can you spare some change? Change, yeah, ha ha! Obama!" That's a new way of getting money, I suppose. However, here are some visual examples that I found:

Tracie and I ate at this restaurant yesterday. As you can see, there is an Obama '08 sign in the window. I've noticed that many businesses actually have similar displays of support like this. When I visited Tracie at her Brooklyn apartment on Saturday, many barber shops that I passed by proudly displayed their Obama signs. There was one shop that had a poster that said "American Heroes" or something like that as a headline and then a picture of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. with Obama's picture bigger than either. The comparison was clear.
Driving into Manhattan using the Holland Tunnel, there was an unmissable large Obama/Biden '08 billboard on Route 9.

I took this picture on Grant Street in SoHo. Unfortunately, I didn't actually look at what they were selling, but I'm pretty sure it was t-shirts and stuff. (Fashionable, of course) You can sort of see some merchandise through the window where Obama's neck is. Tracie told me that a store nearby had been selling mugs during the election season and keeping a tally of how many McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden mugs were sold. She said the McCain/Palin ones totaled perhaps 10, while the Obama/Biden ones filled the window tally and actually extended elsewhere in the store. I feel like Obama has become a recognizable icon whose face will appear on shirts like Che Guevara. Political fashion icon? Perhaps.

I saw this children's book about Barack Obama at my local Barnes & Noble while shopping with my dad. All I could think was, "Seriously?" The title is Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope and the opening page basically told of his biracial heritage. Now, I think it's great that the book wants to talk about biracial families, but a children's book about Barack Obama? Don't get me wrong, I supported the senator, but I thought that this was a bit much. Granted, I didn't read through the entire book, but I couldn't get past the fact that it's a biography for children. The man hasn't even become president yet and still has a lot in front of him. Yes, he has achieved a lot and yes, he is inspiring, but couldn't we wait for a book like that to come out?

This brings me to something I discussed with my friend Zach, whose French roommate asked him if he thought it was strange that the US is the only country where people will wear clothing with their presidential pick on clothing. It's a good point, but I think I've also become a little German in this sense. I question whether or not it's a good thing that people are so zealous about a political figure. Part of my questioning is also due to the fact that I'm reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein right now and I feel like it's making me paranoid about everything. However, I am also excited about Obama's presidency; I think he has some fantastic ideas and I think it's great how he wants to use the internet as a means of accessibility. The past 8 years have not been very good for the U.S. or its image abroad and Obama's presidency definitely symbolizes a change in direction. I am eager to see what he will do and what he will achieve, but I also have reservations about what will actually happen. Call me a pessimist, call me a realist, call me what you like, but that's just how I see it.

On a completely non-political note, what's up with Uggs?? I know I wrote about them before and how much I really, really, really despise/hate/loathe them, but yesterday I went shopping with my dad and there were waaaaay too many people buying them or wearing them. They're so fugly. Why would anyone wear them? If you have an answer, please, do explain. Thanks.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Ting-Tings & Back Home

On Tuesday (11/11) I went to Köln with Christian and David to go see The Ting-Tings live. If you haven't heard of them before, they're a two-person band whose song "That's Not My Name" is a huge hit in Germany. It's a pretty catchy song and their debut album is a lot of fun, so I thought it would be great to see them live.

Unfortunately, I thought the gig was (musically) disappointing. The night started off well and the crowd was pumped up and dancing, which is always great. However, as the short 45-minute set went on, I began to take notice little things that made me go "Huh?" At times, I wasn't sure if Katie White, the singer, could actually play guitar. I don't think she can, not well, anyway. Then there were points where there were definitely filler tracks. I always find filler tracks a letdown, especially when it comes to rock shows. The point of going to see a band live is to see how they perform and hear the songs differently. Sure, fillers at a pop concert are ok (like Madonna, who for the most part is dancing around frantically on stage), but at an indie rock show? Sure, the band only consists of two people, but the White Stripes are also only 2 people and they are simply amazing live. Plus, they don't use pre-recorded stuff and their songs sound completely different than what's on the album. To say the least, my enthusiasm for The Ting-Tings waned throughout the evening. I knew the setlist would be short since they only have one album, but they did not play all that well (again, my problem is the filler tracks). If the set was short and rocked, I would've been more impressed. My verdict: Don't go see The Ting-Tings live for more than 20€ until A. they come out with another album or B. they stop using filler track. However, if you're just looking for a great time to dance to a live band and don't mind spending the money, then go for it.

Thursday I flew back home to New Jersey, where I'm currently writing this entry. My flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam was late, so I had to run through Schipol Airport to catch my connecting flight. Luckily, I got to the gate as it was closing. On the plane, I noticed that most of the other passengers were Europeans, but they were chattering the entire time about how great it was to be able to fly to America. In comparison to my flight back to the States in July, I thought people were actually excited to fly to the U.S. I'm not exactly sure why this was the case, but I have a pretty good guess that it has to do with Obama's election last week. Every weekly news magazine and several gossip magazines (like the equivalents of People or Us Weekly) had the president-elect or him and his family on the cover. There were several special editions about him. And Europeans love Barack Obama. It's almost as if they were saying, "Welcome back to the world, America!" The plane definitely had a more positive energy about it. Another reason for it could be that I flew on a KLM/operated by Northwest flight, whereas in July I flew Lufthansa (whom I despise). Who knows?

Being back home is still strange, especially because I know I'm here for only such a short time. Cars are big, there's no poo shelf in the toilet (hooray!), I noticed the Jersey accent much more than before, and people are louder. I think I'm slowly being Germanized and I'm not sure if that's good or bad...

Friday, November 07, 2008

The 2008 Election - From Germany

It's been a few days since Election Day and I've been holding off writing about politics, but after the outcome, I felt the need to comment. This is the first year that I've been a fervent supporter of any candidate. It was the first time I contributed money a campaign, despite the fact that I have very little money to begin with (still unemployed) and I joined the Democrats Abroad and helped them register Americans living here to vote. It was fantastic meeting the different types of people living in Germany and seeing how this election inspired so many people. One man I met had been living abroad for 20 years or more and hadn't voted since he left the U.S., but he thought the presidential election was too important that he couldn't not vote. There were several people my age that just had no idea how to get an absentee ballot. Then there were Germans who were just amazed at the fact that there were Americans here trying to get the vote out, regardless of party association. (We registered people as a non-partisan act, but if asked, we would respond that we were part of the Dems Abroad.)

During the last three weeks before Election Day, I could be found obsessively checking polls, the NY Times, Washington Post, Fox News, and YouTube. This NY Times article described me perfectly. Leading up the election, I was also interviewed by the Westdeutsche Zeitung (a local paper), though the article misquoted me (I do not and never did think that American papers were more pro-McCain than German papers; rather, McCain got more coverage in American papers than in their German counterparts.) To say the least, German media kept a close eye on the election, reporting on the debates, "Joe the Plumber" hitting the campaign trail, etc. German friends would ask me about the election, what were my thoughts, if I thought Obama had a good chance of winning.

Election Day finally rolled around (and the weekend before it could not have gone any slower). I baked "Obama cookies" from scratch, from the cookies themselves to the frosting. Granted, my first batch was rock hard and I threw them out and made a second batch (shown here), but I was definitely excited about them. A friend from my program last year, Rob, who lives in Pforzheim came up just for the election because he wanted to watch it with some fellow Americans. We went to a small party at this guy Frankie's apartment, whom I had met through the Democrats Abroad. The group there was pretty diverse considering the electorate at home: a Jew, a black man, two white Catholic guys, a Filipino Catholic, a German who had lived in D.C. for awhile, and me. On top of that, we had a three person crew from WDR (West Deutscher Rundfunk, one of Europe's biggest media companies) filming us for a story. We hadn't felt like going to Cologne for the big party there, but we had a great time anyway.

To make a long story short since everyone knows what the outcome was, we were celebrating victory at 6 a.m. Though our party was not big, emotions were running high and our WDR crew definitely woke up a little more at that point. (They were the only ones showing any signs of getting tired in the early hours of the morning) Going home on the train was slightly funny because we moved against the flow of traffic and thought it was almost like a walk of shame, except that the walk of shame was a walk of victory. (Or "wictory" as some Germans might say?) If you want to see the video that WDR made of us, you can see it here (it also covers the bigger Dems Abroad party in Cologne).

On Wednesday, I got calls from some Germans congratulating me on the new president. Everywhere you went, you could hear Germans talking about Obama and the U.S. I felt that I could say, "Hey, I'm American!" and be proud of the fact, rather than sort of mumbling it and being embarrassed. Because of the time difference, the newspapers didn't come out with the story until Thursday, but every single paper had a picture of Obama and/or his family, with headlines like "The dream is finally true" and "The new hope for America." It was impossible to doubt: The U.S. did well in the eyes of German media. We proved that we can change, that we are flexible, that we are a nation of hopes and dreams and the impossible is possible.

I'm sure that people living in the U.S. have seen articles about the world rejoicing, but I can say that it is really true and not exaggerated. We just turned a page of history and I, along with the Germans I know, are looking forward to the future.