Inspired by Granada

Granada really captured my imagination, and I’m not the first. The city’s ancient Moorish palace, the Alhambra, was brought to worldwide attention by American author Washington Irving, who stayed there briefly in 1829. Yes, that’s Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow fame. Read more about the Alhambra’s history, starting in the 9th century, here.

After his visit to Granada, Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which sparked interest in the beautiful, crumbling building complex. Fifty years later (it wasn’t the age of the internet, after all), the movement to restore the Alhambra had begun.

Nice to hear about an American writer doing something good abroad!

It’s easy to see why he was so inspired. I found myself wanting to move into the Alhambra. While the castles in northern Europe are impressive in their own right, the Moorish palace made me want to hang out on a chaise lounge, write a novel, and throw a party when the sun went down.

A good spot for a window seat, no?

This was one of my favorite views of the Alhambra (there in the distance). This tower in the foreground, we discovered, is an 11th century minaret, the only remains of a mosque that was destroyed after Isabella and Ferdinand’s army conquered Granada. As in many places, a church was built right where the mosque stood.

It seems to be fairly common that one minaret was left when a mosque was destroyed (for instance, you see it also at Seville’s cathedral). If anyone knows more about the story behind that, I’d be interested to know.

As one of the last holdouts of the Moors, the whole city of Granada has a very strong Moorish influence. The ancient Muslim Albayzin quarter is particularly fascinating, with its maze-like cobbled paths and tangle of ancient white-stone buildings. And as I mentioned before, the food was great!

I threw some more Spain pictures up on my flickr gallery, so hop over there if you like. I went gaga over the tilework at the Alhambra and at the palace in Seville, the Alcazar. Sooo gorgeous! And I kept thinking: quilts, quilts, quilts!  So many ideas, so little time.

Travel Tip: if you’re interested in seeing the Alhambra, make sure you book tickets well in advance via the Alhambra website. We did book ahead but we still had some difficulty getting them—-luckily my husband’s Spanish saved us, but the process needs some working out of kinks. Also, take your smart phone—there’s a free app you can download on site. We didn’t bring ours so didn’t get to try it.

Next up you’ll be hearing from author Louise Hawes about using dreams in your writing. Can’t wait!

Flamenco in Mijas, Spain

On our recent trip through Andalusia, Mijas (“MEE-haass”) was a highlight. One of the lovely white towns (so-called because of their white buildings) Mijas has great food, donkey and horse rides, and best of all, a Wednesday noontime flamenco performance.

The electricity of flamenco is contagious. These dancers and musicians are true artists. If we’d spent any more time in Spain, I seriously would’ve had to sign up for flamenco lessons (you can, by the way, do this). The performance made me want to hop up and do some serious DANCING!

Here’s a view of Mijas from the hill—-you can see why it’s called a “white town.”

On another day we happened upon the flamenco floor of a department store. “Happened upon”—who am I kidding? Once I heard there was such a thing as a “flamenco department” I was making a beeline. Ahhh….heaven!

Talk about serious artistry. All handmade. One of these babies will set you back around 500 euros or more. I couldn’t QUITE justify the money. But we did get a cheapo version for Little Miss.

I think I’ve got to learn some flamenco sewing techniques now. So far the internet hasn’t been all that helpful, so shout if you know any tricks.

More on Spain to come. For more on our travels around Europe, just click on the “Travel” category on the right.

Currently reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a recommendation from my husband. I’m still not a total e-book lover, but it WAS awesome to be able to pull up The Sun Also Rises,W. Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, and The Big House by Carolyn Coman while in Spain. I love traveling by book and car/plane at the same time.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Real Easter Grass

You’ve got to love a country where people grow their own Easter grass. When I saw it growing in my sons’s kindergarten class last year, I asked Frau F., the teacher, about it:

Me: Wow, you grow your own Easter grass in Germany?

Frau F.: How else?

Me: We buy pink plastic grass at the store.

Frau F.: *look of horrified disbelief*

Me: *looking for the nearest place to hide*

There’s something so exciting about the simple charm of growing a little pot of grass. The kids love to watch for it to pop up. Reminds me of that old Easter hymn Now the Green Blade Rises.

The Waldorf kindergarten also decorates in style. Here’s an egg chandelier, the base of which was hand-carved by Frau F. from the bottom of last year’s Christmas tree, because, as Frau F. enjoyed pointing out, “Christmas and Easter are connected.”

A few more Waldorf arrangements:

 

Sorry the pictures are a little grainy—the light in the classroom wasn’t great, and I was just using my phone.

BIG NEWS! I’ll be traveling to Bologna for a few days for the International Children’s Book Fair. This is the largest trade fair for the industry. It happens every year in Bologna, and I’m so glad to have the chance to join. I’ll be sharing with you about it when I get back!

Handcrafted Tiny Toys

I seem to have a thing for tiny-ness. These beauties are from the Waldorf School Christmas Bazaar here in Hannover. Aren’t they awesome? The little wooden table and chairs were for my niece, but now I’m sad that I didn’t buy any for our kids. And let’s be honest, I want my own, too.  What could be better than having tea out of acorn cups while sitting at your tiny, tiny tisch? We did keep some of the tiny dolls in dresses, and well, there’s always the May bazaar!

There’s something a little bit magical about small toys out of branches. They make me think of Miss Hickory coming alive and the way, when I was a kid, I hoped my own pine cone/ moss/ acorn arrangements would turn into a colony of wood sprites.

The finger puppets went to my kids, so they’re still around. They’re so very German—-the little people are called zwerge, which is kind of like dwarves but only in the Snow White’s dwarves kind of way. They are maybe a little closer to what we’d call gnomes.

 

And here they are all together below, so you can see scale. Also below are a beeswax candle shaped like a beehive, a hand-sewn first aid kit (complete with a piece of candy), and a knight’s tunic. Playing knights is very important here. I don’t know if it’s a Waldorf thing or a general German thing, but you’ve really gotta invest in swords and pretend chain mail if you want to keep up with the cool kids.

Some of these items (tiny dolls with dresses, knight’s tunic, first-aid kit, beehive candle) were made by Waldorf school parents and students. The others were made by vendors at the bazaar, I think some by these folks.  The website is all in German—sorry—but sometimes you can find Waldorf stuff on etsy if you search with that term.

Speaking of tiny things, Angry Chicken had a fun post about them just this week, which led me also to these cool tiny things and an awesome new-to-me blog. 

Okay, I really have to get back to my writing work. Things are happening with my book projects—so happy.

Happy New Year, a Little Late

I’m baaa-aaack. We had a long and lazy Christmas and New Year’s break, including a wonderful visit from family  (thank you, family, for visiting us in northern Germany in winter—-you’re very brave).

The picture above was taken on New Year’s Eve when the whole neighborhood was having a fireworks battle in the streets. The normally orderly Germans kind of go nuts on Silvester, as they call it, and make a huge racket with fireworks for hours. The air is thick with smoke, and the sidewalks in the morning are filled with trash. For more info on Silvester in Germany, check out this article.

Did I finish the sweater? Alas, no. A cold slowed me down, and a wrong turn made for a pitiful first sleeve, but the good news is I think I’ve found a way to fix it, and the other sleeve is finished. It’s been a learning process. Chug, chug, chug.

I’ve been re-reading the first Mason-Dixon knitting book (blog link here). It’s so funny. I love that conversational kind of craft book that is really more about getting you inspired than about specific projects (though it has those, too). I tend to like reading about knitting even better than knitting because I knit so slowly. I’ve got to learn the Continental method—-did you know Germans have a slightly different way of knitting that is much faster? Whenever I knit in public here I always get weird looks.

Anyway, I’m back in the swing, with all kind of things to share and all sorts of plans and ideas. I’ve got two writing projects going at the moment, the YA novel and a nonfiction project, and those are taking up the majority of my work time. The good news is they seem to be going somewhere, so I’m all juiced up.

 I’ll be back soon with more. Crafts! Food! Interviews with writers and creatives! Thrift store finds! German architecture! Can you tell I had a little much caffeine today? Let me know if there’s anything you’d especially like to see more of.

See you soon!

Merry Christmas/ Froehe Weihnachten

and Happy Chanukah, too!

Things are slowing down here at the Pearce household as we finish up our gift buying and attend numerous school events.

I’m still working on that sweater. Who knows if it will make it under the tree or not, but if it does, it will most certainly be in pieces. I’ve run into a conundrum with the sleeve length after thinking I had finished one sleeve. Hard to explain, but if I can make two matching sleeves that fit, it’ll be a Christmas miracle. The good news is, the color combo is working, and one of my two expert family knitters will be visiting soon.

The picture above is from the main Christmas market here in Hannover. I really wish there were such a thing in the States. They beat the mall up and down the block. It’s like a temporary wooden village built in the pedestrian zones, where they sell gift items, fun snacks, and gluehwein (a hot alcoholic drink). I am so going to miss the Christmas markets next year after we’ve moved back.

I hope to see you again soon, but it may not be until after the New Year, so until then, cheers!

Seasonally Affected

It’s that time of year again, when the German sun sets at 4 p.m. in a blanket of gray, and even a candlelight lunch doesn’t seem like a ridiculous idea.

In this season I always think of a poem by my friend Etta, and today she’s agreed to share it with us. Thanks so much, Etta.

MOON SHINE

I.

There is never enough light in winter.

Even in the room you chose

for its double window,

the sun barely gives enough

to read by.

*

I imagine you at your desk

scrambling to catch

what morning light there is.

II.

You have made me think about winter.

how the sun is closer to us

but its light is less:

an inverse, illogical proportion

that my science can explain but not excuse.

A tilting on the axis,

a simple change of wavelength,

hardly seems enough to cause

a melancholy season.

*

Winter’s saving grace

is cloudless night,

each star a perfect prick

in blue; midnight’s moonlight

compensates for gray noon,

bleeding cold life

through your thick curtains.

*

Etta Jensen-Barnes

Etta and I have been friends since first semester of our freshman year, when we took poetry with the late, great Robert Kirkpatrick. After that class, I became an English major and never looked back.

With so little light, I’m grateful to have the tree up and the advent wreath to light each day. Did you know German tree stands hold no water? We learned that this week. It’s traditional to get your tree on December 24th and to keep it up until January 6. Trees are cut much closer to the time of sale, so they don’t really need watering during that short period, I guess. We brought our American tree stand, so we’re watering ours anyway. Some habits die hard.

I love this idea for a children’s Christmas tree over at elsiemarley, and also check out her list of Christmas activities to do with the kids. I especially like this woven ornament idea from the crafty crow.

Also, randomly:

An editorial about amazon’s sneaky new promotion. But hey, hardcover book sales  in stores are up!

Also, I’m making progress on the sleeves for this. Maybe, maybe it’ll be done in time for Christmas. But I’m not above wrapping it up in pieces. Watch me.

Also making progress on my novel and trying to get an old nonfiction writing project restarted. Back to work.

Weaving Fever

Here’s another reason why I love living in the city center. Right in our neighborhood is a yarn shop with not only gorgeous skeins and buttons but also a big mama loom where the shop proprietor/ artist-in-residence sits at the window and weaves.

The weaver is very friendly and enjoys having the children come in to watch. When I say “big mama” I mean the loom is the size of a four-shelf bookcase attached to my dining room table.

My seven-year-old daughter decided she wanted to weave something herself, and luckily the Waldorf kindergarten (where my son goes) had a loom for her.

My daughter, the chattiest of Cathies, will actually sit quiet and weave for 45 minutes at a time. It’s pretty astounding. Hasn’t she done a beautiful job?

Speaking of the Waldorf kindergarten, check out this wheelbarrow my son was playing with the other day:

Even the wheel is made out of wood. I think if I’d handcarved this puppy I’d have it on a display shelf somewhere, but my lucky little guy gets to put dirt and grass in it and wheel it around.

This week he’s been completely gaga over the simple bows and (blunt-end) arrows they’ve been making with string and green twigs. His first one broke, but I’ll try to get a pic of the next one.

In other news, I’ve been trying to focus on my revision, which is why you haven’t seen me here much this week. Speaking of which, I should get back to work! Have a great weekend.

The Drunken Bricks of Lueneburg

At first glance, you may think the bricklayers of Lüneburg knocked back a few too many lagers before work. Many of the multi-colored brick buildings lean and sway, and some turrets are bent like trees in a hurricane.

It’s not the fault of the bricklayers but of the shifting ground in this former salt-mining town. The mining caused the ground to sink in different areas, resulting in the kooky dips in the streets and buildings. The buildings of Lüneburg are stunning examples of Hanseatic architecture, known for its intricate brickwork.

Over the course of my two-day visit there, I was so enthralled with the town that I must’ve taken 200 photos. I never knew bricks could have this much personality.

As usual these days, I’ve got patchwork on the brain when I look at anything. Like this:

Fodder for a quilt?

The contraption below seems to be for lifting items to the top floor. Note the curled brick on the right.

There were a lot of aqua doors, which I loved against the red brick. I’m into any variation of blue-ish with orange-ish.

Here below you can really see the bending. Note the rounded brick used in the little columns and arches.

I loved this sign: 

And a special surprise: I stumbled upon a church sign (St. Michaelis) saying J.S. Bach had sung here for two years as a boy. Bach is my favorite composer, so this totally made my day.

Lüneburg is not far from Hannover—about an hour by car or by train. I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out, but I hope to go again soon.

For another great short trip from Hannover, check out Celle.

*Information for this post was gathered from wikipedia.

That Berlin Buzz

What a hip, creative vibe Berlin has. Like a really smooth espresso—cranks you up but doesn’t make you jumpy.

I was there in July and wished I could bottle the buzz and take it with me. It made me want to write, paint, photograph, disco!

Twenty years after the reunion of East and West Germany, Berlin is still re-inventing itself. It’s bustling with construction: here’s a photo taken from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), with a view of all the cranes going outside it:

One of my favorite spots this visit was the dome of the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament (the first shot above is looking up through the open dome).

The original dome, which was destroyed during World War II, was also glass and steel (see below), but the current one (below the original) looks like something from The Phantom Menace.

File:Reichstagsgebaeude.jpg

File:Berlin reichstag west panorama 2.jpg

Look inside the dome in the next photo. It’s actually open to the elements, so snow and rain enter the center column (the part that looks like a mirrored tornado) and get recycled.

The glass dome is meant to be symbolic of transparency in the present-day German government. But it also struck me as such a symbol of the city and of modern Germany itself. The über-eco space-age cupola joined with the damaged historic building feels like what Berlin is all about.

The New York Times had a debate recently about where young Hemingway would go to live in 2011. Paris again? London? Two debaters (of five or so) voted for Berlin, and I’d cast my vote for Berlin, too. It’s a magnet for creatives these days in part because it’s much more affordable than other big cities.

Holly Becker of decor8 recently wrote a post about creatives living in Berlin. She highlights a German website, Freunde von Freunden that gives sneak peeks into artists’ homes.

For some fascinating photography of historic Berlin (and other European) sites, check out this post by annekata post here. She highlights the work of two photographers who specialize in merging war-time and modern photographs. The effect is mind-blowing.

(Sadly, annekata is no longer blogging, but she’s left up her posts, which are chock-full of inspiration).

Below is a shot from an East Berlin neighborhood where we visited an old family friend. The whole place was hopping with energy and a sense of humor.

For everyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been, I’m back. We’ve done lots of traveling this summer, and I hope to share some more about that soon. The kids are both back in school as of today.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about my travels within Germany, check out these posts:

Chillin’ at the North Sea

Castle Storming in the Mosel Valley

Christmas Magic at Bueckeburg Castle

Day Trip from Hannover: Celle

For other travels in Europe, click on the “Travel” category.

*The two photos of the exterior of the Reichstag are from wikipedia.