15 September 2009

Looking back, and looking forward

Today marks the first anniversary of what I now must call "the mother of all my journeys" - my lengthy stint in Seoul. I have friends who suffer from a "reverse culture shock" whenever they return to the US from an overseas trip, and after this trip, I had one too - one that I have yet to recover from. My Facebook profile, among other places, now identifies my hometown as Seoul, rather than Los Angeles, and my current Southern California location shows up as something more akin to a reluctant reality.

Listening to Mariah Carey in person this past weekend was a good reminder of last year, while at it. I had started listening to her during my first visit to her hometown of New York City, and my subsequent trips/residencies in New York City and Seoul really involved her music. When I met Mariah in late 1994 in New York, I was talking about memories of listening to her in Seoul. And when I was driving along the Han River on Seoul's Olympic Expressway during last year's residency, Mariah was playing in my rental car's CD player - and the river view reminded me of driving on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York. To be with her again in person last week, and to have her close the rather short performance out with "Hero," was a good reminder of everything.

According to Wikipedia, "Hero" has a very interesting history. It had been written as a soundtrack piece for a movie of the same name, to be sung most likely by Gloria Estefan, since Mariah didn't want to do anything with movies then. She only agreed to write the song, but when the song was finished, her then-fiance Tommy Mottola was so impressed that he asked her to keep the song for herself. In the end, a Luther Vandross song was inserted into the soundtrack instead, and "Hero" became the #1 hit for Christmas 1993 - and Mariah's eighth US chart-topper. It continues to be covered by many aspiring artists, and has become a sentimental favorite for many people, me included. I'm grateful that "Hero" remains the one song that must be included in all Mariah Carey concerts - even "Vision of Love" has lost that status now.

Wikipedia also has some info on "Without You," the 1970 Badfinger song that was made famous by Harry Nilsson shortly thereafter. Over 180 other covers of the song exist, and of course, the 1993 Mariah Carey cover is the best known. She recorded the song after hearing it at a restaurant - a modest start to another hit that's become yet another sentimental favorite of mine. It was much more popular in Europe than in the US. I've had tough luck listening to this song in person, however; the only time I could do so was way back in 1995.

Now it's time to carry the memories of my past, by looking forward. What happened to me in Seoul and Hong Kong last year serves an inspiration as I try to plot the most meaningful European trip possible, even with my time constraints. In just over a month, I will be on my way to Munich, the first destination. I want my two weeks in Europe to not pale in comparison to what I experienced in Asia last year, and in order to do that, I'll need to do some research. This blog took on a very heavy Korean accent last year and has yet to lose it, and Hong Kong added a bit of Cantonese accent as well; now, I need to inject some heavy German accent here as well, since the trip is about picking up a Mercedes-Benz, and Germany is indeed the country I am most concerned with.

I guess some discussion of Das Deutschlandlied ("The Song of Germany"), which is the national anthem of Germany, will get started. It has other alternate titles, such as Das Lied der Deutschen ("The Song of the German People") and the never-official Deutschland ├╝ber alles ("Germany Above All"). Its familiar melody dates back to a Haydn composition in 1797, which was an anthem to Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, one of the Habsburgs; for the English speakers, the melody is familiar due to its frequent use as a Christian hymn, with John Newton lyrics.

The lyrics, written by August Heinrich Hoffmann in 1841, have a very interesting story. There are three verses. The first verse deals with the rise of Germany as a new nation, out of the hundreds of smaller countries of the Holy Roman Empire; it sings of Germany's territory stretching "From the Meuse to the Memel, From the Adige to the Belt," the territory much of which has been lost through two World Wars. Today, the first verse is unlikely to be sung by anyone other than neo-Nazis. The second verse is a drinking song, with the starting verses of "German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song." The third verse starts with "Unity and justice and freedom," the current national motto of Germany, and is suitable as a national anthem without the nationalist/fascist overtones of the first verse. During the German reunification, only the third verse was declared as the official national anthem; before then, because of the still-fresh memories of Nazism, the song had been banned right after World War II, and remained only an unofficial national anthem for decades afterwards.

I am intending to head for Germany with a good working knowledge of things that the average German ought to know. That will ensure that I will enjoy every bit of my time there. I want to enjoy driving a Mercedes-Benz in its native habitat as much as I enjoyed driving a Hyundai in its own native habitat. Driving along the Rhine shore ought to be as satisfying as driving along the Han - or the Hudson. The only difference should be that the Mercedes-Benz will be coming home with me.