Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arugula makes me think of pumpkin seed oil, which makes me think of Prof. Dr. Klaus Kunzmann, which makes me think of the University of Dortmund, all of which are happy thoughts.

In the 1990s when I was with the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, I organized, among an assortment of things, a graduate course which we called an “international real estate lab.” I worked with faculty from other universities abroad with a strong urban planning and real estate department to establish an exchange – I’d put on an academic program with lectures, tours, and activities for a group of their students here, and they’d host us for our visit there. It would take at least a year, if not longer, to set things up, and another academic year to line up and prepare our students to work with their faculty and students on some project or set of issues. Over three spring breaks, I shepherded students to Sydney, Hong Kong, and the Ruhrgebiet/Berlin, the last a result of our department connections with the University of Dortmund.

On one of his visits here, Klaus and I worked out the framework of our exchange. We had him over towards the end of his stay and I served with dinner a salad of arugula from my garden. Fortunately Klaus considered an arugula salad to be one of his very favorite dishes, and he marveled that it would be growing so abundantly steps away from our dinner table.

Our first night in Dortmund, Klaus met us at the train station and walked us through an honest-promise forest to his home. Harkening back to our Pasadena conversation, that night he served my students and me an all-arugula salad, tossed simply with salt, ground pepper, and pumpkin seed oil. Now it was my turn to marvel at something my host served, for I had never heard of pumpkin seed oil before. I loved the oil’s lovely pale green shade – not at all a pumpkin color! – and the combination of flavor with the arugula. Klaus said I could find this oil, made in Austria, while I was here in Germany. The rest of the evening, we talked of music, literature, art, and even dance; he was pleased I had seen the Pina Bausch dance troupe from nearby Wuppertal during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Festival. My students had never experienced an evening like it. It was only our first outing, and already the trip was magical.

As we visited the university, real estate projects, administrative offices, and even a soccer game, I kept my eye out for “kürbiskern öl” when we went in and out of retail areas and arcades. I practiced saying “kürbiskern öl” – it’s not easy! – to be prepared to ask for it, and felt I had won a scavenger hunt when I spotted a bottle in a delicatessen.

At this time of year, when my arugula is growing like a weed, I think of that most pleasant evening in Dortmund and the rest of that successful study tour in Germany, that most cultured and intellectual colleague, and that first souvenir bottle of salad elixir. And I smile.

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