Friday, August 27, 2010

Summer Reading - "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand

This summer I decided to tackle one of the elusive Ayn Rand books that I always intend to read, but never start because of their daunting size.  Knowing that I had a couple of months to travel and relax in-between school years I figured that this was the best time to take on the beast.

First off, The Fountainhead was written in 1943 as Rand's third novel and the first of two that would bring her fame and milk money (Atlas Shrugged is the other).
Without telling you too much, in case you want to read this joker, the story is about architecture on the surface and the struggle between individualism and collectivism at a deeper level.  The protagonist is an architect named Howard Roark who epitomizes individualism by choosing to only work alone to design modern buildings that are progressive and unique, while the other architects of his day merely crank out buildings using classical structure and facades borrowed from the Greeks and Renaissance periods.  He is a freakin' hero because he doesn't seek fame, wealth or any form of personal gain...........only to supply society with his buildings that are typically seen as ugly by the common man since he only designs buildings for function rather than appearance. 
Roark is introduced alongside another architect, Peter Keating, that has never had an original thought in his life and uses others, including Roark's genius, in order to amass wealth and success.  Roark, on the other hand, turns down any opportunity to design a major project if his clients don't allow him to build it exactly as he wishes.  While it appears prideful to all, it's not out of pride that he refuses his services, but out of integrity.  He doesn't mind if other architects design copycat buildings to please the public, but he will not take part in something that he doesn't believe in.
There's also a love story intertwined in the plot as well as several other intriguing characters which make this novel a very enjoyable read.  I really enjoyed the latter part of the novel, where Rand comments on individualism vs. collectivism and selfishness vs. selflessness.  Here's an excerpt:

"..........Look at Peter Keating.......What was his aim in life?  Greatness -- in other people's eyes.  Fame, admiration, envy -- all that which comes from others.  Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them.  Others were his motive power and his prime concern.  He didn't want to be great, but to be thought great.  He didn't want to build, but to be admired as a builder.  He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others.  There's your actual selflessness.  It's his ego he's betrayed and given up.  But everybody calls him selfish."

In this case, Roark believes that Keating embodies "selflessness" more than the "selfishness" of which he's accused.  On the other hand, Roark believes himself to be selfish, since he is more egotistical in his work.

Another interesting quote from the novel comes from Ellsworth Tooey, who lives to manipulate popular opinion by writing editorials on architecture.  In this scene, he is telling another character how easy it is to control man....
"Here's another way.  This is most important.  Don't allow men to be happy.  Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient.  Happy men have no time and no use for you.  Happy men are free men.  So kill their joy in living.  Take away from them whatever is dear or important to them.  Never let them have what they want.  Make them feel that the mere fact of a personal desire is evil.  Bring them to a state where saying "I want" is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission.  Altruism is of great help in this."

He goes on to say that this has gone on for centuries and is at the heart of any world power growing out of a system of ethics.  You can see where this ideal is controversial, but it is interesting food for thought.
In the last few chapters of the novel Roark must defend himself in court by delivering an amazing monologue loaded with thought-provoking quotes, such as this one:

"Rulers of men are not egotists.  They create nothing.  They exist entirely through the persons of others.  Their goals are in their subjects, in the activity of enslaving.  They are as dependent as the beggar, the social worker and the bandit.  The form of dependence does not matter."

So, to wrap it up, it was a thought-provoking read and I can see how it could raise some controversy in its day, and even today.  As a Christian I believe that we should put others ahead of ourselves and sacrifice some of my desires in order to give to others of my time and resources.  It seems that Rand would argue that any form of altruism is some form of slavery to a system because I am convinced that I should deny myself certain things.  She would also argue that I am not a free man because of this form of slavery.  This idea also seems to comment on forms of socialism and communism where the individual is forced to give up freedoms for the greater good of society.  I also found it interesting that Rand views rulers, those that normally are put on a pedestal in history, in the same light as beggars, social workers, and bandits that are all dependent on others.

What struck me most, however, was the first quote where those that are seen as "selfish" by society may also be seen as "selfless" from another perspective since that person typically loses his/her ego to dependence on others.  I applied this concept to my work as a teacher.  In pretty much every job I've held and in life I think that I strive to work hard and do my best with some part of me seeking approval and acknowledgment from others along the way.  Yes, I want to invest in the lives of kids and make a difference, but I also don't mind hearing from my administrator that I'm doing a great job.  I guess one would seem a little less human if he/she didn't respond at all to any praise for accomplishments, but it seems that true integrity would be striving towards excellence without needing or wanting any approval from others.  At any rate, I am aware that I seek the approval of others and almost need that feedback to keep me going.  This seems to be a natural human tendency, but one that I would like to break free of. 

From a Biblical standpoint, I believe we should strive to please only our Creator, as we find in the following passage from Colossians 3:23-24:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is Christ you are serving."  With that in mind, I think that it is a worthwhile goal to ask God to work on our hearts to help us break free from the enslavement of seeking approval from peers.  Not that we can't appreciate any praise or compliments from others; rather that we should not need it and have confidence in every aspect of our lives.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Old Sachsenhausen

Two weekends ago we wanted to go explore some more of Frankfurt. You would think after a year we would have seen a lot of Frankfurt, which we have, but there are a few corners we haven't ventured to yet. We have been to Sachsenhausen many times, but for some reason had never made it to Old Sachsenhausen. Both these places are across the river from us and are famous for their Apple wine or in German Apfelwein. The normal Sachsenhausen is a great place to go and hang out either for a nice glass of apple wine or for a great meal. Old Sachsenhausen is also good for all these things, but it has so much more character and you really feel like you are in a German town.  I can't wait to go here for a meal or a glass of apple wine, but more than that I can't wait to take some visitors here.

The path across the river.

A view from the other side of the river. If only those cranes weren't in the picture.

One of the many streets winding through this cute quarter. Cobblestone and half-timbered it!

You tell me!

These little plaques were all over this district hence the Apple Wine quarter.

Just to get an idea of what this area looked like.

I thought the side of this building was so unique. 

So come visit us so we can take you to all the cool areas of Frankfurt, it is cooler than you think. After the big summer trip we had a couple weeks of down time in Frankfurt and so we did some exploring and really enjoyed just being in Frankfurt. Stay tune to a post on the Frankfurt Zoo!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Duty Free tips from our trip

To say we learned a ton is an understatement. The most amazing thing about this trip was seeing things you had read about in textbooks. It was awesome to re-learn all the facts and actually have a few stick. I wouldn't want to bore you with facts and figures that you could read in a textbook, but I will tell you some helpful life lessons we learned on the trip.

1.) Get to Know Rick Steves - We have totally drank the Kool-aid as true followers of Rick Steves! To think in a year we can go from not even knowing who this guy is to not wanting to travel without him. Especially on this Italy trip he saved us so much money from his tips and more than anything with his free audiotours. Yes, he is totally cheesy at times, but I like to imagine him as my dad with all his lame jokes and just shrug and smile.
Don't forget your trusty ipod with free Rick Steves audiotours. Can't you tell they are lovin' it?

2.) Make Reservations - One huge tip for anyone traveling in Italy or anywhere in Europe for that matter is making reservations. This was a HUGE time saver and totally worth the the extra charge. The three museums that you should definitely make reservations at are the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence and the Vatican in Rome. No joke we walked passed hundreds of people by just going online and making a reservation.

I look so happy because I didn't have to wait in a line or in the sweltering hear.

3.) When Renting, Don't Assume - Ask the right questions! Make sure when you go to Tuscany in July to ask if they have A/C or a pool. We just assumed we would have one or the other, like my mom says assuming makes an ass out you and me. So no A/C and no pool made for a sweaty time in Tuscany. Really I would ask this about even a hotel anywhere it is hot.

I know it looks beautiful, but don't be fooled.....we were sweating our butts off.

4.) When it Comes to Luggage, Make Like Home Depot - We learned very quickly a 5 euro cab ride is really 8 euros when you have 3 pieces of luggage. They don't tell you that until they are lifting your bags out of the trunk and say," That will be 5 euros and 3 for the luggage so 8 euros." Just like that. My suggestion is either lift your own luggage or put it on your lap if you don't want the extra charge.

5.) Remember Bed, Bath, and Beyond - There is definitely a difference in stars on hotels. We were lucky enough to have stayed in a 2, 3, and 4 star hotels. In our eyes the 5 star system is based on three elements which we will call bed bath and beyond. With each star the bedroom, bathroom and breakfast get bigger and better.

Our 4 star hotel in Florence had the most amazing breakfast including the happiest staff I have seen.

6.) Bare in Mind... - When in Italy don't forget to bring something to cover your shoulders, if not you will be sporting one of these.

7.) Don't Try to Win the "Most Likely to Be Underdressed" Award - When packing for a trip make sure to think of ALL the things you are doing. We kind of forgot about the cruise when packing because all we knew was that we were going to be in Italy in July and that means shorts and tank tops, and the one pair of jeans for the Vatican (no shorts or bare shoulders allowed in there). Well on our cruise, not sure about other cruise lines, but after 6pm it was smart casual and that means a collared shirt for Justin. Thank God Justin packed one collared shirt and we liked to call this his dinner shirt. Halfway through the cruise we picked him up a five euro Ralph Lauren knock-off Polo in Turkey and he was able to rotate between two dinner shirts.

Dinner shirt #2 and our amazing servers Adi and Paola.

8.)  Know Where the Boat is Stopping - As first time cruisers, when we read our itinerary of all of the amazing places that we would be stopping to see, we had no idea that in many cases the boat does not actually drop you off in the downtown area of say, Athens for example.  Believe it or not, you can't actually park a big ass boat right next to the Acropolis for your convenience.  With that in mind, your cruise line will have prepared shore excursions for you to choose an additional cost of $25-$100 per person....per excursion.  So if you thought that once you paid to be on the boat, you would be home free.....think again!  Our suggestion is to find out where the ports of call are exactly, figure out how far it is to where you want to go, and decide beforehand which excursions you might want to book.  On the other hand, we found that many people call ahead and hire private tour guides and vans in those cities - oftentimes they are cheaper or comparable, offer more to see, and don't subject you to someone else's schedule.

Looks amazing right? The part you don't see is us taking a train from port only to wait for a bus to go up the hill for 45 minutes and only getting about an hour and a half to walk around before we have to catch the train to make it back on the boat before it takes off. 

9.)  Snack Carts in Rome.....Forget About It - After sweating through our tour of the Forum in the center of Rome, we found ourselves thirsty and starving in the center of a touristy area - not a great combo.  We ran into a sandwich/snack cart that looked suspiciously expensive, but we tried it anyways.  The sandwiches were only 4 Euros, which we thought was reasonable, so we got two sandwiches and two drinks......not thinking to ask how much the drinks were.  After we popped the tops on our drinks, took a sip, and grabbed our sandwiches the man says "that'll be 16 Euros".  After dusting myself off after falling over at the audacity of the statement, I found that the man was not shitting me.........the coke really was 4 Euros!  For some reason soft drinks are a luxury item in Rome, so watch out........or "Cave Cokum"!

10.)  A Gelato a Day Keeps the Scurvy Away - Italian gelato is about as close as it gets to cold, creamy, perfection.  While I stay true to some Mayfield and Ben and Jerry's back home......the Italians are legit on some gelato and it is worth a try.  I was put off at first at the thought of spending 2.50 Euros on one scoop of gelato when I know that they sell it for 1 Euro or less per scoop in Germany, once I gave it a try I could taste the difference and they give you a generous scoop in Italy.  However, the Italians do use real fruit in their gelato so our advice is not to try "lemon" or "watermelon".  The former made Marisa pucker up like it was lemon "Warheads" flavor and the latter had me spitting watermelon seeds all over the city of Siena.  You can't go wrong with anything else.

Pineapple was good along with chocolate, orange, strawberry, blueberry, cookies, and Marisa's fav peanut butter.

Lemon not so good.

11.)  I Pity the Fool that Don't Take Naps - I know some people like to "get their money's worth" while on vacation by pulling marathon days and trying to do everything in the guide book.  We also like to do some damage when we visit a new place, but one thing that is essential is the mid-afternoon nap.  We like to get up and kill it until lunch, eat, then crash at the hotel for a couple of hours in order to be renewed for an enjoyable evening stroll.  Trust me, there will be enough time to see it all.

12.)  Husbands, Say Yes to the Purchase.....the First Time They Ask - Lastly, when you find something that you really like for a price that is reasonable......go with your gut instead of waiting to find it later for a lower price.  Marisa found a leather purse in a market in Florence that she really liked at a decent price, but it was the second day of a 26-day trip and we didn't want to shoot our proverbial load too soon.  Long story short, we ended up finding two more versions of the same thing along the trip.....both for more money than the original offer.  We ended up buying it in Rome for 20 Euros more than the original asking price in Florence because we weren't going back to Florence before going home.

13.) People should smile more- Literally! Justin really took this to heart.

--Marisa (#1-7 & 13) Justin (#8-12)

Friday, August 13, 2010

My first nephew!

Right before we left for our summer adventure I became an aunt to my first nephew. My sister, Kendra, and her husband, Jeff, brought a healthy baby boy into this world. He was three weeks early (just like me) and came right in the middle of them moving into a house. That is a way to make an entrance.

Nolan Richard Winters
Born: June 21, 2010 at 4:50pm
7lbs 6oz. 21" long

Isn't he so adorable? I am already in love with him.

I can't wait to meet this little guy face to face in December. To think nine months before Jeff and Kendra were in Germany, I guess there is something in the schnitzel or the beer.

It is hard to believe that my big sis is a mom now. I am so excited for her and Jeff for this new chapter in their lives. Congrats you two and welcome to parenthood.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Snapshots - Venice, Italy (the last stop)

The last stop on our trip was Venice and it was a gem! We only stayed two days, but that was plenty of time to see everything.

Before going to Italy we would tell people where we were going and when we said Venice no one seemed that excited about it. So we didn't really know what to expect. Our last night in Rome we met an American couple at dinner who had just been to Venice and were raving about it. So we were more excited to see Venice. I have to say Venice was great and if you are going to Italy it is definitely worth a day or two. It is just like nothing you have ever seen before.

Our first night in Venice featured this.......

Awesome right? It was right in the center of town on St. Mark's Square.

Of course the canals and gondolas. This made the city so unique, but the gondolas were a total rip off at 80 euros for thirty thanks! We enjoyed watching everyone else on them. 

The Rialto Bridge. It was lined with vendors on each end and made for a fun walk through.

The Grand Canal. This is the main canal that runs through Venice. We took a water bus from the airport all the way down this canal and were dropped off right next to the Rialto Bridge.

One of the many amazing canals/streets. We really enjoyed just walking around and exploring the city. You would get lost and find streets that would run into a canal with no bridge. It was like a maze trying to find streets with bridges. Buying a great map was key in this city.

Campanile di San Marco

St Mark's Basilica and the clock tower back to the left

Stopping to take in the views

Right outside the Peggy Guggenheim Museum which was definitely worth a visit. It was her personal home and personal collection of art.

The second day we went over to the island of Murano. This island was and is the pioneer for glass-blowing. We went to a glass museum and it was amazing. The things you can do with glass is unbelievable. Some of the stores could have been museums.

Because glass is so famous here you could find it everywhere. This picture does not even give it justice. If you are in the market for glass Murano and Venice are the places to go.

Another thing that was everywhere besides glass was these theater masks. I am still not quite sure why, but I guess the guy that made the mask for the movie Eyes Wide Shut lives in Venice. This city had a lot to offer in the ways of shopping and Justin and I definitely turned into a couple of window shoppers.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Snapshots - Rome, Italy

We finished our cruise in Rome and decided to spend a few days here.  From all of our friends that have traveled extensively in Europe, they all said that Rome is a great city.....and it didn't disappoint!  We had plenty of time to walk among the ruins, tour the Vatican, and check off all of the famous sights.  Just being here made me want to start reading Dan Brown again - by the way, they actually give "Dan Brown: Angels and Demons Tours".

Basilica Santa Marisa d Angeli-built using one of the oldest Roman baths.

Marisa in front of Michelangelo's steps on Capitoline Hill, holding her trusty Rick Steve's guidebook. Don't travel without one!

Copy of the famous "She-Wolf" statue on Capitoline Hill.

Victor Emmanuel Monument - built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Italy's unification in 1870; he was Italy's first king

"Four Rivers Fountain" by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Piazza Navona - for all the Dan Brown lovers out there, I think this was used in "Angels and Demons" when one of the cardinals was dumped in here to drown by "water".  The four rivers, characterized by gods, represent the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata.

St. Agnes church in Piazza Navona - stands behind the Four Rivers Fountain; the obelisk on top once stood on the Appian Way

Trevi Fountain at night - this place was bumping at all times of the day.  It was built by Nicola Salvi in 1762 to commemorate the reopening of an ancient aqueduct that powers it.  It is said that if you throw a coin in over your shoulder that it will ensure your return to Rome...........I threw in a 2 cent coin, so maybe I'll pass through the airport or something.

"The School of Athens" by Raphael - ridiculously famous painting in the Vatican Museum that features many of the great thinkers of the ancient world such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Pythagoras, etc.

With a closer look at the right side of "The School of Athens" you can see a self-portrait of Raphael (wearing the black hat).  Sort of like the original "Where's Waldo?" painting.

Contemporary art - Vatican Museum.  While not mentioned by many, we were impressed by the modern art that was on display at the Vatican.  There is more than the Sistine Chapel to see here.

Van Gogh

Marc Chagall

Salvador Dali

Vatican Guard - don't let the striped parachute pants fool you.......this guy is for real and can pull off a nasty roundhouse kick in those bad boys.  "You think anyone makes fun of me when I dress like this?........forget about it!"

St. Peter's Basilica - pretty spectacular church that lived up to the hype.

Michelangelo's "Pieta" in St. Peter's Basilica. For those like myself that didn't know what a Pieta was for a long time, here is a definition from WikipediaThe Pietà (pl. same; Italian for pity) is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, most often found in sculpture.

Marisa took the opportunity to write and send postcards from the Vatican post office. They have their own stamps and everything.

St. Peter's Square - Vatican City

Colosseum - built in 80 AD, at the peak of the Roman empire with a capacity of 50,000.......that's larger than Bobby Dodd Stadium before the expansion!

Colosseum - originally it was named the Flavian Amphitheater and had a 100 ft statue of Emperor Nero outside

Arch of Constantine - this guy was the first emperor of Rome to legalize Christianity (312 AD)......kind of makes it sound like the gateway drug or something.


National Museum of Rome - awesome bronze statue of a resting boxer

National Museum of Rome - Roman copy of Greek discus thrower

National Museum of Rome- you had to see this close up to appreciate it, so much going on.

Filippo Zamboni - I figured the inventor of such an amazing device would get better real estate than under a tree in a random respect!

View of the Vatican

We were impressed by the generous public drinking fountains all over Rome.  The water tasted great, was cool, and tons of people used them.  They constantly run from who know's where. This was one of the cooler looking ones - most of them just come out of a spout.

Along the Tiber River at night.

Mamertine Prison - the same dungeon that once held Peter and Paul while in Rome.  It was pretty dank and I couldn't imagine being chained to a wall down here.

The Circus Maximus - where the chariot races would've been held.  Sort of like the first Talladega I reckon.  I can picture the rednecks parking their chariots on the hill to the right, drinking Busch Lite with no shirts on.

The Appian Way - the ancient road that once connected Rome to the Adriatic port of Brindisi; built in 312 BC.  We walked along here for a nice break from the city and checked out some catacombs built to house some of the early Christian martyrs and popes (around 500,000 people were buried there!).  

Piazza Popolo

-- justin
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