Germany, silliness

Greetings from the Schwarzwald… where pan pipes are considered soothing.

Yesterday was a very busy day. We woke up early, with plans to go to Stuttgart and see our dentist. We were long overdue in seeing our dentist, Dr. B. It had been over two years, mainly due to COVID-19, and the inability to travel with ease coupled with conflicts of schedules. Originally, I had planned for us to stay in Stuttgart, but our favorite hotel was totally booked. Then I remembered how much I liked visiting The Black Forest when we still lived near it. So, even though our hotel is 100 kilometers from our dentist’s office, I booked us in a very nice resort for four nights. But we spent most of yesterday in our old stomping grounds.

I am pleased to report that I had a good checkup. Bill was not as lucky. He’s been complaining about his teeth recently and, sure enough, as the dentist was probing, one of Bill’s fillings fell out. Bill has to come back to Stuttgart next week. He’ll just take the ICE train and do a one day visit. We both got very thorough cleanings that were much needed and appreciated. My gums are a little sensitive today.

After our dentist visit, we had a hearty lunch at a steak joint. Then we met someone in my wine group who was going to be picking up corks. I collect corks from our many bottles of wine to give to the crafters among us. After chatting with the lady from the wine group, we headed back to the hotel, spent a little time at the pool, and then I hung out at the bar, while Bill talked to his therapist online. It was a little strange sitting alone in the bar. This resort is loaded with German couples and families, most of whom don’t seem to speak English. I caught the bartender glancing at me, probably wondering where Bill went.

Over the sound system, they were playing music from the 80s and 90s. We’re talking Celine Dion, All 4 One, Boys to Men, and Phil Collins. It was actually a little depressing. For one thing, those songs were all hits when I was a lot younger. As I was listening, I was reminded of my 20s, when I was younger, healthier, and probably prettier, although you’d never know it by my non-existent love life in those days. I had images in my head of going to bars and feeling invisible and broke.

Add in the fact that while this hotel is very pretty and has old school charm, it’s also a bit dated. And so, I felt almost like I was in a time warp, accented by the outfits some of the people were wearing. Not that I can talk about that myself…

This hotel also pipes annoying Muzak into the halls and restaurant. It’s basically a step up from the horrible Muzak my dad used to force me to listen to on our car trips. Bill and I were eating breakfast and “Careless Whisper” by Wham came on, only it had been softened into a soothing version of the original. And that arrangement included pan pipes!

Who in the hell wants to listen to pan pipes in an 80s song about breaking up? It reminds me of the time I heard a Muzak version of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n’ Roses.

I know… I know… who pays attention to the music piped into restaurants? I do. I’m obviously not the only one. I am a frustrated musician. Every time I hear pan pipes, I’m reminded of Zamfir. He used to be on ads in 80s and 90s, selling his pan pipe versions of the day’s hit songs. It made me want to tear out my hair.

Yikes! This gives me chills.

In college, I joined Sigma Alpha Iota, which is an honorary music fraternity for women (as opposed to a sorority). Pan pipes are part of SAI’s insignia. Members have pins they wear that have pan pipes in the middle of them. I appreciated being a sister of SAI, but I’ll be damned if I will willingly listen to pan pipes by choice. I’d rather visit the dentist, as long as he doesn’t play Zamfir’s greatest hits during the exam.

As Bill and I were discussing the pan pipe infused hit song, “Careless Whisper”, originally made famous by George Michael, somehow our conversation morphed into chat about patient privacy. Germans actually have a very interesting approach to privacy. Bill was lamenting about how our dentist, who was trained in the United States and is half-American on his dad’s side, doesn’t have any qualms about talking about other people’s issues. HIPAA does not exist in Germany. So Dr. B will tell Bill about my teeth, and he will tell me about Bill’s teeth. He doesn’t bat an eye… and in fact, he speaks loudly enough that anyone in the waiting room can hear him.

But… people who commit crimes in Germany are often not publicly named. Here, there exists the right to be “forgotten”. They don’t go in for canceling people. So, if someone commits a crime, he or she can do time and then try to rejoin society. Read a newspaper about a crime and you’ll see a photo of the alleged perpetrator, face blocked by a binder and first name and last initial used instead the whole name.

Germany also has an annoying Data Privacy law, which requires Web sites to state upfront that they use cookies. Every time I hit a site in Germany, I get a pop up that tells me about cookies… and any site that doesn’t want to comply is unavailable over here without the use of a VPN.

I’m sure there’s more to the privacy law than pop up ads. A few years ago, when I was having issues with quitting Hello Fresh, I read that if I wanted to make a big stink, I could remind them of the data security law to light a fire under them. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, although there was a lot of swearing involved with getting them to completely delete my account.

Anyway, no one screams about HIPAA here, because there is no such thing. Our dentist will happily talk about my last remaining baby tooth, which will turn 50 next year, should I live that long and it doesn’t get abscessed or anything. He’s probably told his other patients about it. Every time I see him, he mentions it. I think he said that prior to meeting me, the oldest person he had ever met with baby teeth was about 35.

Yesterday, as we were driving back to the Black Forest, we passed by our former digs… or, actually, we didn’t go by where we lived. We just passed the town, and where we used to turn to go home. It was a little surreal. We spent four years there. It was mostly a good time for us, except for dealing with our former landlady, who seemed determined to paint us as people we aren’t and make us pay for things that weren’t our responsibility. That experience kind of soured me a little… I would have preferred to have left on much better terms, as we have in almost every other living situation we’ve been in as a married couple. But I guess this kind of thing happens sometimes.

I tried to appreciate how truly beautiful the area where we lived is. It really was a naturally beautiful place. Where we are now isn’t nearly as idyllic, although it is also an attractive area. It’s just that the Black Forest is extraordinarily beautiful, even at the edges, which was where we lived. I miss being able to take off on weekends and be in the forest, where there are stunning views everywhere you look. And it’s nice to be back down here… Germany is different in this area than it is where we are now. God help me, if you were to ask me where I feel more at home in Germany, I’d have to say the Stuttgart area… as whacked out as it can be on many levels. I do love it here… and it’s great to be back. I hope we can do some more short visits. I guess if COVID keeps up, we may keep traveling within Germany.

Well… Mr. Bill has come back to the room. He’s excited, because the sun is out, and he wants to go for a walk. I suppose I owe it to myself to take a walk and exercise my old bones. It would be a good idea, since today is high falutin’ culinary day. We have reservations at two fancy restaurants today, since there are weddings tomorrow. So I’ll stop here… and try not to get too upset over the news… or pan pipes arrangements in piped in music from the 80s and 90s. The Schwarzwald is beautiful… but it probably appeals most to people of a certain age. Alas, I am reaching that age.

book reviews

Andrew Ridgeley’s love letter to George Michael…

Bill and I just spent an explosive evening in Landstuhl, so he could get a colonoscopy. I brought my iPad to pass the time and thanks to Bill’s early morning laxative dose, I was wide awake to finish Andrew Ridgeley’s book, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir.

You remember Andrew Ridgeley, right? He’s the less famous half of Wham!, one of the hottest pop acts of the 1980s. As a child of the 80s, I was a Wham! fan. I remember when they burst on the scene around 1983, then lit up the airwaves with their hit song, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, which I learned from Ridgeley’s book was based on a note he’d left for his mother.

Published in October 2019, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir is the story of how back in 1975, Andrew Ridgeley, the son of a Scottish mother and an Egyptian/Italian father who’d anglicized his name, befriended Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of an English mom and Greek dad. George– then affectionately known as Yog, because it was easier to pronounce than his real name– was a shy new kid, and Andrew volunteered to show him around their school at Bushy Meads School. The two boys became fast friends who hung out with each other, got in trouble together, and eventually formed a super popular band and began keeping company with the likes of Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

Although George Michael was definitely the better known and probably the more musically talented of the pair, Ridgeley was the one who had come up with the idea for starting a band. They teamed up with some local lads, including Andrew’s brother, Paul, and managed to write some songs that eventually caught the ears of a promoter at Innervisions Records. In the meantime, the two watched “X rated” Saturday Night Fever, snuck into porn shows, got drunk for the first time, went to dances and parties, and went through the usual growing pains that come from being an adolescent.

Apparently, though Michael eventually came out gay, he dated girls when he and Ridgeley were in school. And Michael was not nearly as much of a clothes horse as Ridgeley was, although he did become rather obsessed with his hair. At one point, Ridgeley notes dryly that his friend and bandmate looked a bit like Princess Diana. Since Ridgeley is generous with photos, I got a look back at George Michael’s appearance back in the 80s and, I have to agree– he and Diana had very similar coifs.

Boy, does this bring back memories…

Wham! consisted of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, but there were also two women in on the act who danced and sang to the music. Shirlie Holliman Kemp was a local girl who used to date Andrew Ridgeley. The band hired her to dress up the act. Singer-dancer Helen “Pepsi” DeMacque-Crockett rounded out the group.

This was one of my favorites… on cassette, of course. The lyrics were definitely dirtier…

Wham’s! time at the top was short lived, but burned brightly. George Michael turned out to be a bonafide star, not only a great singer with a lot of charisma, but also a great songwriter. Ridgeley started out as legitimately half of their duo, but Michael overshadowed him and, in 1986, the group disbanded so that Michael could go solo and released his incredibly successful debut album, Faith. Ridgeley points out that he and George had started out as two young, hedonistic, party boy types who appealed to teenagers. But when George Michael went solo, he attracted an entirely different audience. I thought Ridgeley was extremely complimentary and kind to his old friend, who ended up being a lot more famous and arguably more successful… except when you consider the fact that George Michael died on Christmas Day in 2016 and Andrew Ridgeley is still alive and kicking.

And of course, the annual favorite, made more poignant since George died on Christmas. Andrew has some funny tales about this video, too.

I enjoyed reading Wham!, George Michael and Me, although it was a bit skimpier on details than I was expecting. The writing is basically solid and easy to understand, but it seems like it was a bit short. I was surprised this morning when I got to the end. It was almost like Ridgeley skipped from 1986, when Wham! was doing its farewell concert in London to finding out about George Michael’s sudden and completely unexpected death thirty years later. Still, I found Ridgeley very likable as a storyteller and some of his tales about growing up with George are downright hilarious. I especially enjoyed his commentary about their fashion choices.

I’m glad I read this book, since it framed George Michael in a more down to Earth, human, light. And I was charmed that Andrew Ridgeley got starstruck meeting people like Jimmy Page, whose daughter was a big Wham! fan, and The Bee Gees, who invited George and Andrew to lunch. As George and Andrew had been hugely influenced by Saturday Night Fever, that was a real honor. I also liked reading about how Wham! played in China at a time when no one else was playing in China, and they were offered bicycles as payment… and how they, the children of fathers from other countries, assimilated in Britain. Apparently, George Michael was a very good student, too, and his traditionally minded father had dreams of him going to university and getting himself a “proper job”. I’d say that despite Andrew Ridgeley’s “negative” influence and bent toward hedonism, George did alright with his career.

I think I’d rate this book four stars out of five, because it was fun to read, but a little lighter on details than I would have liked. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in Wham!

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