Salt and Bread as House-Warming Gifts?

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Let’s start this article with this scenario: Two female friends from Bavaria, who have known each other since college, decide to open a restaurant in a rural community in Hesse, where a few of their former college mates and cousins are living. They purchase this small building that has a restaurant on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor. After two weeks of moving and renovations, they have a house-warming party where they invite friends and family, as well as some helpful neighbors and even their first customers. While many they know give them some useful items for their home and business as well as some wine and food, the two girlfriends become astonished, when half the people invited give them as gifts……

BREAD AND SALT!!!!

Before going a bit further into the topic, let’s have a look at the symbols of the commodities we do know. Salt had been known as the common commodity for trade, having been used during the Middle Ages as a leverage of power. Salt has many uses, as seen in the examples mentioned in Saxony-Anhalt and in particular, Halle (Saale).  In Christian terms, the bread symbolized the body of Jesus Christ and the wine as his blood- both taken at communion. Gold and resin were symbols of birth and happiness, as interpreted during the Birth of Jesus.

But the concept of bread and salt as house-warming gifts are, believe it or not, customary in Germany. I learned about this concept through a student in one of my English classes, who received just that for his home in eastern Thuringia and mentioned that this is the traditional norm. While in normal households one is greeted with wine, food and the basic necessities for the apartment, such as appliances, knick-knacks and perhaps a good candle light dinner (yes, I’ve heard of such stories), bread and salt seemed to be the normal house-warming gifts.

In fact, after doing some research on this, one can find this tradition in much of Germany. The reason is that bread symbolizes the full cupboards and the elimination of hunger, while salt represents the flavor in life. One cannot live a life without salt. It is unknown where the tradition originated from except to say that bread and salt have their symbolic presence in Slavic, Russian, Jewish and even Arabic Cultures, all of whom have similar meanings involving life, happiness and the avoidance of hunger. They all provide the newly occupied tenants with a starting point in life, where they can prosper from there.

Yet bread and salt are not the only gifts a person can give, especially if people deem the gifts as either unusual or even inappropriate. Other traditional gifts have been given to the new tenants, each of which has its own symbolic meaning, like the following below:

  • Sugar: Means “So your life shall always have sweetness”
  • Wine: Symbolizes the hope “That joy and prosperity may reign forever”…or…”That your family will never be thirsty”…or…”So you will always be of good cheer”
  • Honey: So that you may always enjoy the sweetness of life
  • Broom: “So your home may always be clean” or “To help sweep away any evil and bad luck”
  • Coin: “So you may dwell in good fortune”
  • Candle: “So that this house will always have light” or “So you may dwell in light and happiness”

In some traditions, especially in the rural areas, a house-warming tradition includes a cook-out and potluck dinner, where friends and neighbors bring something to share with the new tenants, most of it is homemade and from farms, such as canned goods, homemade jams and juices and smoked meat, but also goods made from wood that are useful for the household. Most of these traditions one will find in central and northern Germany, where the population is more sparse than the southern half.

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While this tradition applies for new neighbors, it can also apply for newlyweds as well, as especially bread and salt represent an alliance that will never die of hunger or be boring. And when tying this in with being new neighbors in a small community, one already has established a network of friends and family that are a lifetime’s worth keeping. A sense of hope in an ever-changing environment. 🙂

When compared to the American tradition, one can consider house-warming gifts in Germany as a sign of openness and getting acquainted with new people. In America, house-warming gifts are mostly associated with the Welcome Wagon, where representatives pay a new tenant of a house a visit with a basket of flowers, broschures and infos on what to do in the community, and some small goods, as you can see in the video below:

The Welcome Wagon is not as popular today as it was in the 1970s and 80s, but some remnants of strangers stopping by for a visit are common in American culture today. Even a short visit to say hi from the new neighbors is not untypical and one that should not be considered rude:

To conclude, bread and salt do have a place in German culture and serve as a house-warming gift, however other gifts with similar meanings, as mentioned above, are just as common. They all have one meaning, which is to have a long and prosperous life, whether the two people are newly married or new neighbors or both. While other people prefer other more practical gifts to get the household started, one should not be surprised and disappointed if your next door neighbor gives you bread and salt as gifts. Each gift has a symbolic meaning which should be considered in a positive sense. With bread and salt, the tradition goes way back intime, and even if it is not practiced everywhere in Germany, they still consider the two commodities customary.  🙂

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For Jacob

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On a cold fall night a porch light is on

All is silent, the sun makes its leave

Onto the next morning, leaving us behind

We wait and we wait for our child to come home

But still we feel alone……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are talking memories as the stars come out

It gets colder and lonelier as we wait for our child

To come home to a warm house and open arms

But still he’s out and about……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are out, armed with torches and flames

We become worried, filled with regret and remorse

Wondering what went wrong as it gets darker.

We call out his name as the street lights are lit

But still, not sound or a whimper…..

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The media is now in force,

Collecting facts and faces and getting the word out

But still, not a sign, not a trace……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

All our family and friends gather around

Over an open fire, and it’s completely dark,

Talking about a child’s dreams and ambitions

But all on the fritz because he’s been gone like a blitz……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The police are involved, the suspects are questioned,

We speculate and assume, we start campaigns

For justice and humanity but with one purpose:

To bring our child home even though he’s not there yet….

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

Politicians and children’s advocates storm the capital

Demanding changes to laws to protect children’s rights

And put those responsible behind bars for good

We do this in our child’s name,

Though he still has not come home.

 

Every cold fall night, porch lights everywhere go on

We all call out our child’s name, never giving up

It’s colder and windier but the town lights are the brightest

In hopes he’ll be home soon….

 

On a cold fall morning, a porch light goes out

The sun has risen, the sky all blue and hue.

Our child has come home and into our hearts

We don’t know what happened, or who or how.

The bottom line is he’s home for good

And we can now forever be at peace.

Amen.

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This poem is written in memory of Jacob Wetterling, whose remains were found on 1 September, 2016 after having been kidnapped on 22 October, 1989 and gone missing for almost 27 years. I was 12 years old when the incident occurred in St. Joseph, Minnesota, located three hours north of Jackson, where I grew up. The kidnapping sparked an outcry by parents and children’s advocates demanding tougher laws to protect children from predators and register sex offenders after having spent time in prison. Still, thousands of children are reported missing in the US and Europe every year, more than half have yet to be found. Jacob had many dreams of being an athlete, just like everybody else. However Jacob did much more as he helped us define what a good parent can and should be- protective of their rights but also fostering their growth so they can be whatever they wanted to be. From a parent’s point of view, he has our thanks. While the person, who led police to his remains, has been put in custody and will most likely be put away for life, the bottom line is Jacob has come home to rest. It is in my hope as well as others, that the Wetterling family, who have been proud advocates of children’s rights for almost three decades, finally find peace after many years of searching for him. Our porch lights will forever remain on in Jacob’s memory……

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To the unknown person who created this with many thanks….

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Genre of the Week: Alternative Für Deutschland by Jennifer Rostock

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Source: Pistenwof/Festival of Summer/Wikimedia  Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJennifer_Rostock-7.jpg

Founded in 2007, the band Jennifer Rostock has its origins that are considered unique. It features Jennifer Weist and Joe Walter, both natives of Usedom, located in the German state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania, who were childhood friends and gifted musicians. They later met fellow members Alex Voigt, Baku Kohl and Chris Deckert in Berlin and Werner Krumme while at a music workshop in Rostock. Their style of music consists of a combination of punk, electro-pop and Berlin-rock and since their founding, they have become popular on the German rock music scene, having released seven albums and toured in the German-speaking countries so far; that despite having songs released in German and English.

However, despite their punk lifestyle, they also have a world view on politics and have been engaged recently as more and more people are leaving the traditional German parties of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU) and joining the far-right party the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland), whose policies consists of tax relief for the rich, less money for social and health care and banning Muslims and other groups from living in Germany- including stopping the influx of refugees entering Germany. With local elections to take place in Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Brandenburg this fall and on the eve of the federal elections next year, this band has taken an unusual approach to their music style by combining political propaganda and piano and producing a sing provoking the people to think before voting and/or even joining the AfD. Check out this video that was released recently:

Being short and to the point, each statement about the AfD and their policies are presented in an advertised form but with Weist having the confrontational gesture indicating that unless a person wants a brawl, and has the mentality of a Nazi that they should join the AfD, unless they have some time to think about it first and look for other party alternatives. The song is similar to all the campaigns that are going on in the United States, especially between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Speaking from an American expat’s point of view, such a provokative song would go great for people seriously thinking about voting for Donald Trump, whose policies are exactly the same as that of the party led by Frauke Petry- no immigration, expulsion of minorities out of the US, the return to isolation (which would be a first since the 1920s), and having a wall along the Mexican and Canadian border. This in addition to controlling the media and the freedom of speech among the American people. It makes me wonder how Weist and Co. would craft their song in English and address it to the public similar to that what she is doing for her people in the north of Germany. Music is powerful and controls the mind and hearts of those who listen to it, influencing them on what they think and sometimes do. It can be peaceful, but it can present a type of music that is classical but whose lyrics make it unusual and stunning. The AfD song by Jennifer Rostock may be considered a propaganda song supporting the party, but it has the typical German warning that you see in pharmaceutical commercials:

Zum Risiko und Nebenwirkung, lesen Sie die Packungsbeilage und Fragen Sie Ihren Artz oder Apotheke (Talk to your doctor or pharmacy about the risks and side effects of taking this medication)

For this song, which has won the Genre of the Week Awards, the first international Award by the Files, the slogan behind the song about the Alternative for Germany party goes along the following lines (something that voters in Meck-Pomm, Brandenburg and the rest of Germany should consider before going to the polls:

Zum Risiko und Nebenwirkung, lesen Sie über die politische Partei und ihre Agenda und fragen Sie die Experten. (Talk to the experts and read about the political party you are voting for).

Or in American English: Thinking about voting for the AfD? You better know what you’re getting into.

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Should Jennifer Rostock decide to write and sing about Donald Trump, what should go in there? It should be similar to what she sang about the AfD. Go to her website (here) and offer your suggestions. 🙂

 

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Parting Ways With Garrison Keillor

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Sinclair Lewis’ Place of Birth in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Photo taken in 2009

When I was a child spending time with my grandmother in a rural Minnesota community, I would spend my time in her basement, building and enacting a small community called Warnerville. Fictitiously located between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the town of 22,000 inhabitants was an oasis surrounded by mountains and desert, located next to a lake and priding itself on professional sports. While everything was built together and up, using old boxes, metal rods and wooden boards, I brought it to life with a weekly newspaper, depicting scenes one would find in Minnesota, not California. That means, the model town was a deadman’s town, similar to my recent visit to the German town of Glauchau, in western Saxony, but its stories were typical of the ones that could be found in a local Minnesota newspaper, such as pen and plow-style gossip, crops and weather, local racing on the streets of downtown and a creative mentality that makes a traditionalist share the laughing and crying pillows!  🙂 While my grandma made sure her entire basement was not an urban sprawl (my town took up half her basement floor) and my dad dreamt up concoctions of the town being destroyed by natural disasters and toxic waste spills, my idea of the town and its stories came from my aunt, whose third husband was an art teacher at a small city college in Minnesota (specifically, Marshall), and up until their divorce in 1996, were passionate about listening to public radio, and in particular- A Prairie Home Companion. 🙂

Before diving into this topic, here’s a question for the readers out there, including those residing outside the US:  Have any of you heard of A Prairie Home Companion?

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A Prairie Home Companion was started as a morning show in 1974, being broadcast live from a theater at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was later relocated to the Fitzgerald Theater in 1978, where it has been its home ever since. The show’s structure originally followed that of several shows in Germany, in particular, the NDR Comedy Club (now known as Comedy Contest): live performance with acting and music combined with a little taste of home. While NDR’s show originates from the north of Germany, A Prairie Home Companion has a taste of Minnesota, with the likes of Guy Noir- Private Eye, The Lives of the Cowboys, News from Lake Wobegon, and all kinds of performances, capped off by the piece “Tishomingo Blues“, composed by Spencer Williams but the lyrics were added by the creator of the show himself, Garrison Keillor.

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If there is a general rule for Americans, especially Minnesotans residing overseas or in Canada, you never know what American culture really is unless you listen to two hours of Garrison Keillor’s show and Lake Wobegon stories every weekend. Since being connected to internet at our home in Germany in 2009, my wife, daughter and I have been listening to a Prairie Home Companion on Sundays in the evenings at supper time, listening to fiddlers on the roof, people with Minnesota accents talk philosophy in the corn fields, celebrities impressing the audience with their solo performances, and Keillor advertising fictitious products, such as Powdermilk Biscuits, Guy’s Shoes and the Barn Machè Beauty Salon, all in beautiful Lake Wobegon.  If one is wondering, Lake Wobegon is a fictitious town on a lake in central Minnesota between Sauk Centre and St. Cloud in Stearns County, even though Keillor in his show names it Mist County. A story behind the creation of Lake Wobegon can be found here. The show in general shows American culture, especially in the Midwest, that has been rarely shown in the classroom but should. The theatricals are scripted on one hand, but looks so real to the audience that after watching a live performance, the people become attached to American life from the eyes of the creator. All scenes are lively and the performers are really relaxed and into the scenes, sometimes intermingling with the audience. It is a combination of theater and madrigals into one, with some special guests making the show even more enjoyable to watch. Sometimes, the show gives the expats a sense of home that they miss but also have in their home country.

To give you an idea of what you are missing, here are some examples:

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Despite all this, 2 July, 2016 will be remembered as the day people leave Lake Wobegon forever. Its creator Garrison Keillor is retiring from the show after 42 years. Born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota in 1942, Keillor is both a writer and a broadcaster, having graduated with a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Minnesota and starting his broadcasting during his time as a student for a campus radio station, known today as Radio K. After graduating from college, he started his career at Minnesota Educational Radio (now known as Minnesota Public Radio- MPR) in 1969, where he hosted a few programs, including the forerunner to the popular show, A Prairie Home Entertainment, which featured music that veered away from the classical music MPR had played  before. The show was later changed to A Prairie Home Companion in 1971 and it remained a radio show until it was launched as a show with live musicians three years later. Keillor was the host….

…..and the rest was history.

Minus a two-year hiatus, Keillor was a host for 40 years, and omitting the four years in New York City, all of the shows have taken place in Minnesota, which he has called home. And it is good that way as when one calls a place home, it is the place where the person does his best. This was the signature of A Prairie Home Companion and even more so as a writer. Keillor has 21 novels to his credit, ten of which come from the Lake Wobegon series, which started with the first one published in 1985. A Guy Noir novel was produced in 2012. Three poetry anthologies and three poems are included in the mix.  He also created The Writer’s Almanac, a daily post by Minnesota Public Radio which features a poem by a famous author, combined with some interesting facts about famous people, including writers, politicians, inventors and historians, just to name a few.  Keillor intends to continue writing and producing for A Prairie Home Companion, yet come this fall, the show will become the care of another host, who will carry the torch and create his new version of Lake Wobegon. But even if the host, Chris Thile,  has large shoes to fill and the show will be different, his previous experience with the show when Keillor was hosting will help him bridge the gap between the patrons who came to love Keillor over the years and those who listen to MPR and have heard of Keillor’s work, but are looking forward to a new chapter in A Prairie Home Companion.

For Keillor, there is this:  Lake Wobegon brought the Minnesotan in this author, listening to his show and following the Writer’s Almanac from Germany. Like the works of Sinclair Lewis, including his famed literary work,  Main Street USA, Lake Wobegon allows a person to close his eyes for a couple hours, head to a rural Minnesota town and enjoy the company of some interesting but friendly local people, while giving the author some ideas of what to write about in terms of articles, pieces for newspapers and even novels. And while I’m doing the first two, his ideas and stories from the shows are contributing to a concoction of events for a novel which I will get to soon. If published, I owe you a copy with a round of thanks, for bringing the two homes together for two hours on a Sunday night.  🙂

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Before doing this send off, I asked some readers if they knew about A Prairie Home Companion and what they remembered about Garrison Keillor and a lot of ideas came about. I decided as a way of closing to provide the top Garrison Keillor Greatest Hits for you to watch and listen. Most of the Prairie Home Companion shows can be found on youtube, while you can subscribe to A Prairie Home Companion and  The Writer’s Almanac via the Files’ Educational and Cultural Links (scroll down to the end and on the left).

Greatest Hits:

This four-part series is the oldest to be found to date on youtube, dating back to 1987, shortly before Garrison Keillor took a brief hiatus. Strangely enough, during his hiatus, two shows bore out of A Prairie Home Companion, one of which is All Things Considered, which is still being broadcasted on MPR today. (Click here)

A friend of mine (from Minnesota) once mentioned that he was involved in a concert featuring Keillor and the theme on Halloween. This one’s for him, even though this is an earlier version and he was in the concert with his choir about five years ago.

Holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas were Keillor’s main targets for themes in his shows but also when he is live and in person at several venues, like this one.

It’s no secret that Keillor is a lefty in terms of politics. Still he enjoys adding some humor to all the political themes, some of which would never be discussed at the dinner table these days. On his last day of performance on 2 July, 2016, he received a congratulations and best wishes by President Obama, whom he supported during the elections and his presidency. Obama was a regular listener of A Prairie Home Companion and enjoyed Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories while dealing with political issues at the White House.

Keillor has not kept one handicap back in his career, which is his highly functioning form of autism, which he was diagnosed a few years ago. He was never a person who looked at another person straight in the eye, and was a loner. Yet, he still enjoyed the company of many people from different backgrounds. From an author’s point of view, it never shows. And as a secret ingredient: the best people, and especially story tellers of fiction happen to be the most gifted. 🙂

Guest stars have been welcomed for over a decade, including frequent visitors, such as the Civil Wars duet, who stopped by Lake Wobegon for a dinner and entertainment in 2011.

Keillor could not escape the parody of the Simpsons, like in this episode (he was played by another actor, by the way). Just wished that Homer would take in the entertainment from a different perspective. He will before the TV series finally signs off.

An excerpt from a typical Prairie Home Companion show with The Lives of the Cowboys.

And Keillor’s final News from Lake Wobegon on July 2nd at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Over 18,000 people attended his final performance and an additional 10+ million listeners honed in on his final performance of his 42-year career.

Long Live Lake Wobegon  <3   🙂

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Tribute to Bud Spencer

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I’d like to start this tribute off along the tracks. The sun, while baking two heroes walking to a small town in Iowa in the late 1880s, is setting slowly. The men, dressed as cowboys and holstering guns, are tired and hungry, yet their town they are walking to is only a mile away. They keep marching along as the train broke down three miles behind them because of a boiler that blew up along the way. Yet the explosion was planned as a party of six bandits try to rob the train. Yet these men, a toothpick and a big burly bearded man use fists and legs instead of bullets to ring them out to dry. After they were tied up, the two men walked the tracks to the nearest town to get help, only to find that it is empty:

Yet they enter a saloon and were met by hostile men wishing to pick a fight while drunk. Again with fists and leg power, they were taken down instantly by the two heroes with no shots fired. Some of them flew through the windows and doors. After chomping down on drumsticks and a good mug, the bartender calls for a doctor and other people willing to help the stranded, as a good gesture and as a way of offering thanks for making the streets friendlier again.

Now this can be found in many American western films with the likes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Michael Landon, Henry Fonda, James Arness, Sam Elliot, Clint Eastwood and even “the Dude,” Jeff Bridges. But these two heroes are known by many today as the Spaghetti westerners, known as Terrance Hill (the toothpick) and Bud Spencer (the big man).  Today we are saying good bye to the big man, who passed away on 27 June, 2016.  Despite their presence on the American stage, Europeans are more attached Bud Spencer than the Americans. Even I as an expat was first introduced to the spaghetti western films when coming to Germany 17 years ago. While perhaps a handful of Americans, mainly baby boomers, may know him for his films, here is a crash course on the big guy which will get many of you acquainted with his films:

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He was known as Carlo Pedersoli and was born in Naples, Italy in 1929. He had a younger sister, Vera (born in 1934). In 1940, he and his family moved to Rome and thanks to the presence of the Pope, escaped most of the bombings during World War II. Italy was under the rule of Mussolini until his overthrow in 1943 and subsequentially his execution two years later. He married Maria Amato, the daughter of a movie producer, in 1960 and had three children, Giuseppe, Christiana and Diamante.

Before he became a famous actor, Pedersoli was an all-star swimmer, having started swimming at the age of eight and having won his first championships in high school at the age of 15. He later broke records for freestyle stroke for Italy and participated in the Olympics in Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956). Before retiring from the sport in 1957, he had collected seven national championships and was even on the Italian water polo team which won gold medals in 1948 and 1960. He was very athletic, having competed in and won several championships in rugby and boxing. His size and height of 1.94 meters served to his advantage.

Despite a short career as a pianist, Pedersoli’s biggest break came with an offer from Giuseppe Colizzi, an Italian western actor who was an acquaintance of his wife Maria and an admirer of his swimming career. Colizzi offered him to play a key role in the film “God Forgives, I don’t,” which he was to team up with another Italian actor, Mario Girotti. The film was released in 1967 but not before the two actors changed their names for marketing purposes. Giorotti became Terrance Hill, while Pedersoli became Bud Spencer, which was based on his favorite beer Budweiser and his favorite actor Spencer Tracy.  For 27 years, the duo appeared in 17 films, including two Trinity films, Miami Supercops, and Troublemakers.

In addition, Bud Spencer went solo in 10 other films, such as Aladin and Banana Joe as well as guest starred in many other TV shows. His side dish career as a musician added some cinnamon and spice to his storied career as he produced two solos for two films in two years (1981-2), while releasing 13 albums and dozens of musical pieces to his credit. While most of the films have been translated into 20 languages, Spencer can speak only three other languages in addition to his Italian: Portuguese, English and German, although the first one was his primary foreign language.

The last interesting fact that is worth noting was his passion for flying. After starring with Terrance Hill in the film, All the Way, Boys,  in 1972, where they played airplane pilots in Columbia, Bud Spencer decided to take up flying, which was for him the symbol of freedom and passion. He took flying lessons and clocked up 2000 hours flying several different airplanes and jets as well as 500 hours of flying with the helicopter.  He flew for 35 years, flying not only for business and pleasure, but also utilizing his talents as a pilot for later films.  He even founded Mistral Air in 1981, which became one of the well-known freight airlines in Italy. He later sold it to a larger company.

While many people in America think that guns are the answer to all conflicts, they should also see how Bud Spencer handled all his problems in his films, with a fist full of coins and dollars. When seeing him in action (especially together with Terrance Hill), the first characteristic that comes to mind is his size and wit. The second is always the fist, taking down fools who dared to try and mess with him. Some examples at the end of the article will show his signature character.

Yet not all fighters and “bouncer-actors” did not live like that alone. Hulk Hogan is an artist, Road Warrior Animal became a priest, and Bruce Lee was a writer and teacher. With Bud Spencer, he was a man of multiple talents, whether it was an aviator, writer, musician or even an inventor (he invented and patented 12 items in his lifetime).  One can learn a lot from the big guy himself- a person of justice and a spaghetti westerner on the set, but a well-talented Luciano Pavoratti off the set. Therefore one should open up to a guy who, like Spencer, is a teddy bear with a heart. And as Bud Spencer and his counterpart head off into the sunset, with food, supplies and some help from other locals to rescue the people stranded outside the small town, we have one word to say for what you’ve done through the years and what you’re continuing to do in Heaven, Bud: Grazi/ Danke/ Thanks!

Greatest Hits:

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The Flensburg Files would like to pay homage and tribute to Bud Spencer, thanking him for showing his talents both on and off the stage. He will be missed by many who watched his films over the years. For those who have yet to watch a spaghetti western, you have 30+ reasons to do that and Bud Spencer and Terrance Hill will show you why. After watching some of their films since coming here in 1999, all I can say is you don’t know what you are missing.  🙂