Monday, October 1, 2012

What? He still writes in his blog?? Oct 1. 2012 Update

The bow of a 1950's Chriscraft Speedboat, Mahogany with Canadian Maple.
Just to get you in the mood:)

Hi Folks!

I thought I'd take my last few remaining minutes of freedom for a few years and bring you up to speed on the answer to the question "whatever happened to Gordo?"

I'm in here.

You knew that I went to Germany, but maybe you didn't really know what I've been doing, except writing occasional explosive rants about immigration policy.

Mareen and I returned two weeks ago from our time away on the
Baltic Sea (Ostsee). If you didn’t already know, I have been working in a wooden boat restoration workshop since July, working and learning to restore and build boats of all sizes, using very traditional methods and materials.

The shop.

  The workshop, “Bootswerft Freest” is becoming more and more recognized for a variety of reasons, principally that it is run by a quirky and knowledgeable woman, Kirstin Dubs, and also because it receives some funding from the German "Heritage protection department" to do what it does. Last winter I heard that Fr. Dubs was looking for carpenters with boat building experience, and when a summer practicum in Dresden fell through, I went up to the small village to meet her and talk about spending the summer there at the workshop. I was given the opportunity to continue work on a prototype sailboat, which had been long stalled due to lack of funding. I accepted the challenge, and was quickly in over my head trying to read drawings where everything was curves, trying to pick up where the last frustrated worker left off.
Put your level away, son, it'll do you no good here.
You get a better picture of the form and design looking from the bow abaft.

Meanwhile, in exchange for my due diligence with the boat, Mareen and I were put up in a smart little Ferienwohnung (vacation house) for the duration, a good place for Mareen to hit her books, and not worry about being disturbed by anything other than church bells once a day. For almost two months Mareen had her own study desk up in the office of the boatshop, and made herself immensely popular with the crew by baking weekly treats.

She didn't think my fries were an appropriate addition. Continental Europeans: snobs.

After 10 weeks of working on the boat and often on weekends as well, I see very little difference from where I started. I know that a lot of progress was made, and that a lot of the dirty work is out of the way, but there’s nothing new and gleaming to show off. Hurrying doesn’t pay at all in this kind of work. You just have to put the hours in.  I scraped, and sanded, and painted epoxy for the majority of the time here, and learned as much as I could by watching what the people around me were doing. It wasn’t at all glamorous, but I’ve made some good contacts, and it felt good to have tools in the hand again. One of the best parts of being a handworker is the people that you get to work with, and their quirks.

Good light, because of the no roof.

We celebrated our last night on the Ostsee by going to see the NDR Symphony Orchestra (my dad will tell you who they are) at the former V-II Rocket factory on the island of Usedom. History buffs will be a bit jealous here. It was a Mahler Symphony, which was quite dramatic, and mirrored the history of the venue quite well.

Peenemunde "Kraftwerk" (Power Station)

"The Enemy can see your lights, Blackout!!"
German war propaganda poster. Also probably quite true, at the time.
Whereas in Dresden our weeknights and weekends are usually booked-out well in advance with events, we spent our evenings on the Ostsee experimenting with recipes, reading, and enjoying the calm before the storm, with Mareen putting in 13 hours a day re-reading her textbooks. I started my Bachelors of Engineering today and will be with the company that is sponsoring my co-op study, when not at school, on and off for the next three years.
Library, United Kingdom, by Deutsche Werkst├Ątten
I am happy to be writing this blog from the other side of the mountain. Those of you close to me have been sympathetic watching my battles against beaurocracy and redundancy. There’s nothing I could have done to change the order of events, it’s just something you have to go through. Part of my application to study here consisted of an English Exam. I passed it.
No really, I passed it.

I was told on a Monday morning that 66 hours later (I made every hour count), I was to write a math-entry exam consisting of Linear Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Differential Calculus. The ultimate effect of failing this test very well could have been my being unable to fulfill the requirements of renewing a visa and being deported. I threw a hail-Mary and focused on the Differentials, and, to everyone’s amazement, passed.
Claytons CAN math.
I will be busy, very busy, until November of 2015. I can tell that to some of the students around me, that that seems like a long time. I know it's just around the bend. Most of them are coming directly out of high school. I knew that four students, myself included, are representing my sponsor-company, Deutsche Werkst├Ątten. It just so happened that when I asked the class who the other three were, we were all seated in the front row. It seems my three colleagues are also proud to be with the company. We will not have semester holidays, we are either at school from 7:15 to 17:00, or at work from 6:00 until 15:00. Sometimes we have classes on Saturdays, rarely on Sundays. The rule at the school in the past (up until this year) was that if you failed a test in the first two years, you were exmatriculated (as bad as it sounds). They now generously allow students to fail up to one test. Two, and you’re out smoking behind Netto. You are building the picture, yes? Moving on.

Mareen has 8 days before she writes her final medical exams. It is a three day test, with three five-hour sessions, comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions each. She, I believe, is as well prepared as somebody can be coming into the exam, but if you could remember to “press your thumbs” (think thumbwrestling) sometime during those three days, I’m sure it wouldn’t go amiss.
Mareen "studying" on the Ostsee

So, a time of uncertainty has passed, and I can now refocus some efforts away from worry and stress, and put them into thoughts of how I can best use my time here. Our plan has us here for likely another 5 to 6 years at least, and that’s a lot of time to see what is to be seen here in Europe. I am ecstatic to be honored by the visits of some close friends this autumn, and I encourage all of you to take the opportunity to have a couch to sleep on in this beautiful city.

All the best, Gordon

I'm in good hands.


  1. Love it! Thanks for the update. Best of luck going forward!!

  2. 5 years!!!!!!!!!!! Waaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh We miss you! :'(