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Sunday, December 25, 2011


Fröhliche Weihnachten!

To celebrate the season, I've been going to the various Christmas markets Vienna is famous for, and collecting pictures along the way. Here are some "iconic" ones:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Die Goldene Stadt

I just got back from a weekend in Prague with Jake and Jen. It was a lot of fun. I sort of did the same things I did last time in Prague. I felt strangely familiar with the city, actually, and since neither of them had been to Prague before, I played tour guide - much to my surprise.

Unfortunately, since it's December and getting pretty cold outside, and since winter is fast approaching and there is less and less daylight the closer we get to the winter solstice, this trip was quite a bit different than the one I went on last year. It might even be a good idea to explain why I did go. Well, ever year for Maria Empfängnis, that is, the Immaculate Conception (and basically every other Catholic holiday), Austria calls off school. In that way, it's a good opportunity to travel. But it is still in December.

Last year at this time, I went to visit Sarah in Poland. The weather this year was much more convenient for traveling - warmer. We haven't had any snow yet, not a flake! It has been cold enough to snow, but that gray, cloudy Vienna sky clears out every time the temperature drops - and then darkens again above freezing for rain.

ANYWAY, here are some photos from Prague. All of the Christmas decorations were out, and Christmas markets, too! Exciting stuff - and a bit like we hadn't left Vienna in that way. But of course, the fare is different, but still. there was Glühwein.

We mostly did the touristy things, like go to the astrological clock, climb the tower, visit Charles Bridge, drink lots of beer, eat lots of heavy Czech food and visit Prague castle and the old town. All in all, a relaxing trip!

 In that way, I think it's easier to visit places you've already been again and again - you know what to expect, you know what you like, you feel comfortable and you don't have to think about planning or worry about having a terrible time. That's why people do it, of course.
The Astrological Clock

But it can get a bit boring to go to the same places all the time. I don't know that I'd really like to do places I've already been again soon. While I still have the opportunity to travel around Europe this year during the time I'm teaching, I think I'd like to see places I've never been yet. That's one of the reasons for traveling in the first place, isn't it?

Maria Theresia got her fingers into Prague, too.

St. Vitus in Prague Castle

light through rose window in St. Vitus

rose window, St. Vitus, Prague

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Desperately Seeking Dog

This note has been posted in the teachers' room at school for a few weeks now.

Translation? Loosely, it says: "Attractive Male Miniature Dachshund seeking straight-haired Female for puppy purposes. Pedigree preferred." With name of "owner" attached, so you know whom to contact if you come across a miniature Dachshund in the mood...

Friday, December 16, 2011


Superstition - it's not just a Stevie Wonder song. Austrians seem especially keen on exploring them, actually, which I find fascinating in a quasi-pagan sort of way. Several examples have recently cropped up in my life. I'll share a few of them with you.

Two of my teachers asked me to do a lesson on superstitions around the world, for example, the number 13 vs. the number 7, breaking a mirror, black cats, opening an umbrella in the house, spilling salt...the list goes on. In my search for cohesion in the topic, I stumbled upon this website, which has a nice little A-Z list of superstitions.

The list my students came up with was pretty basic, and unfortunately the accompanying book lesson (from the less than stellar More!) had a completely awful version of The Monkey's Paw which is an excellent story if you read the original short story by W.W. Jacobs. But, the kids also came up a few unexpected superstitions: wearing red in China symbolizes good luck, and white bad luck; in Serbia, hiccups are caused by people talking about you.

My landlady has a book called "Guided by the Moon" (in English, written by an Austrian) which outlines all of the things you're supposed to do or not do depending on the cycle of the moon.

For example, clipping your nails after sunset on a Friday will keep you from having hang nails or ingrown toenails. Cutting your hair when the moon is waxing will make it full and beautiful - if the moon is waning, you will go bald. Felling a tree on New Year's Eve Day in the morning will make the wood easier to work with - and more durable - if you are planning on making furniture or tools out of it.

Christmas trees need to be felled during the waxing moon in December. If they are, they will keep their needles for months. Always water house plants on a water day (when the moon is going through on of the water signs - Pisces or Cancer, but not Scorpio). Do gardening: planting, weeding, harvesting; on an earth day (when the moon is going through one of the earth signs - Virgo, Taurus or Capricorn).

Sure, these superstitions can be a little silly, and I doubt whether most people actually still believe in them. But remember, this is Freud's country, and a lot of weight is still given to dream interpretation! I suppose anything is possible.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ein kleines Update...

For those keeping up, my landlady recently moved back in from being abroad in the USA with her daughter to help take care of her new grandbaby. Over a weekend, my living situation dramatically changed. I'm sure it will all be great, but at the moment, I'm still in the struggling, "gotta get used to this" mode. The biggest struggle is sharing not only with Jo, but with her family - especially the other grandbabies that live in Vienna!

I like kids, don't get me wrong. But I haven't had to deal (up close and personal like) with babies since my 10th grade babysitting gigs stopped. Seriously. Listening to little screams the minute I get through the door from work is almost making me reconsider having my own kids. At least in the near future...although, they are pretty adorable when they're not screaming their heads off. Like most people.

School is school. My schedule is a lot different this year than last year. I'm teaching until 6pm twice a week (for Wahlpflichtfächer, or mandatory elective courses) which is a bit tiring, especially since last year I only taught in the mornings, having every afternoon free. It's a little depressing leaving and coming home in the dark - at this time of year, at least. 

Also, for those interested, I will officially not be coming home for Christmas. Unfortunately, I didn't book a flight early enough to get a good deal, and last-minute flights are ungodly expensive. This means I will be in Vienna for Christmas, or, failing that, traveling to somewhere close by. Hopefully to places I haven't been yet. I just got back from a weekend in Prague, and although that was really a lot of fun, despite chilly December weather and a couple of snafus, I'd been to Prague twice before. The upside is I got to play tour guide!

I'd like to get to some of the out-of-the-way places before I leave Austria. I've been thinking of doing places I haven't been yet, at least for day-excursions, like Eisenstadt, Innsbruck (I've only ever been in the train station), Southern Tirol (Bozen, for example) and other places I've heard good things about. Well, I guess Eisenstadt really only has a palace...but that's good enough for me. I can get my kick living vicariously through the former empirical nobility, can't I? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

American Passages

Living in Austria has taught me a lot about being an American. It's curious in a way that an Austrian film recently released and chosen by my students to see would not only center around the United States and the "American Way of Life" but in doing so give me pause, leaving me to question how I fit in to this picture.

Last night, I went to see American Passages, the new film by Austrian documentary film director Ruth Beckermann at the Votivkino in the first district with the 7th form (juniors) Wahlpflichtfach (English elective class). All the girls (there are only girls in this class) were late, buying popcorn at the concession stand, trudging into the theater after the lights had dimmed and the previews started, sloughing off their winter gear in the row behind me, reserved just for them.

The film we were set to watch was about the American dream, I suppose. Or the inverse-American dream. As a whole, the film had little storyline, not much to connect images to dialog, aside from the fact that the interviews collected from around the United States served as the common denominator. The interviewees were of diverse cultural backgrounds, many of them underprivileged or part of the minority somehow. Pans of Harlem residents celebrating Barack Obama's 2008 presidential win, a bride-to-be in Mississippi telling the audience how she and her husband met, a gay couple living in Arizona explaining how they came to adopt a set of twins and a former pimp and compulsive gambler at the roulette table of a Las Vegas casino all take part in the aural and visual melange Beckermann gives us. The names are not given - just the stories and the circumstances in which they came about. The footage is coherently edited and flows from picturesque landscapes to portraits of denizens, but the stories seem dislocated, abstract, aborted, unfulfilled. Scattered. It is never fully explained who these people are - why they are important. They are all Americans. I suppose in its way, that is enough.

On Beckermann's part, I felt a very skewed version of reality confronting me from the silver screen. A one-sided commentary on the United States from an Austrian: a foreigner who has had little other, actual cultural contact with the USA. I couldn't help but feel her lack of objectivity on the subject not only prejudicial but lacking in professionalism. Displaying each side of the American story coherently and without injecting her own preconceived notions of what she expected to find seemed absent to me. The "documentation" was not unbiased.

My discomfort with the portrayal of Americans was perhaps underscored by the audience. As a scene of a Memorial Day celebration in Mississippi took up the screen, a woman sang the Star Spangled Banner and, upon saying a few words about the armed services - men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country - she began to cry at the podium. Snickering began in the theater, and in some cases, I'm sure I heard full-blown laughter.

Perhaps she has lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps she loves her country so much, her empathy overwhelmed her. Perhaps it was just too stinking hot on that May day in Mississippi that she couldn't keep her emotions in check. Because it was not explained, we will never know. Despite why she began to cry, it is to me unfathomable that her reaction should be mocked and ridiculed. This woman, in giving respect to her country and the US Armed Forces deserves respect in return.

This may sound hypocritical, and on some level it probably is. Before I spent any considerable amount of time abroad, I was an America-hater, too. It was a pretentious and rather ugly form of self-hate that I hope I've grown out of. Yes, I hate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hate that all of (what I perceive to be) the bad aspects of American culture (junk food, SUVs and unchecked consumerism being high on this list) have been exported to Europe, and lauded by young Europeans. I hate that non-Americans assume the United States does not have or has not produced anything worthy of the title "culture" but I now realize that, as an American, I am not defined by what my country does or is, unless this is what I allow. I, one person, am not responsible for 300 million. Perhaps the president is, but I am not. I can hate things about America, but I cannot hate being an American. What else do I have?

I've heard from many Austrians that they don't understand American patriotism. They don't have any idea why a person would sport the Stars and Stripes on a t-shirt or bumper sticker, why they would send care packages to the overseas troops. Or why the Pledge of Allegiance must be recited every day in school. I can't exactly explain it myself, but I do think that there's nothing wrong with loving one's country, and being proud to be where you're from.

Xenophobia and dogmatic patriotism are not all right, but most Americans, including the woman who was filmed, are not crazy patriots or bigots because they commemorate the soldiers who served in any war for their country. And since the equivalent of First Amendment rights came so much later to Austria, it's no wonder to me that there's a cultural gap - that freedom is inherent to the human condition, and that it can - by definition - safely mean two different things to two different people.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Side of Thanksgiving

I suppose my last post was a little mean, and maybe I was feeling sorry for myself that I was missing out on Thanksgiving with my family in Wisconsin, being here in Vienna and all. I feel much better after partaking in a Thanksgiving party put on by my friend Jake - though I could have skipped the cooking for oodles of people part of the holiday (which Jake did most of anyway). Gross consumerism (re: Black Friday) is also evident everywhere, not just in the US. I can see it quite plainly just walking out my door onto Mariahiferstrasse, the Madison Avenue of Vienna, especially at this time of the year - Christmas shopping is in full swing.

Here are some photos of the Thanksgiving party:

It really amazed me how much effort Jake went through to get a dinner for ten prepared (with all the fixings). I come from the "lazy" school of entertaining, I guess. My mom never makes anything gourmet for our holiday celebrations - it would probably never go over with the traditional side of the family anyway. She normally does recipes she knows by heart, that take as little effort as possible, e.g. scalloped potatoes instead of mashed so she doesn't have to peel 6 pounds of potatoes. In any case, she always has time to make her own bread, which is really the best part of the meal, in my opinion. And really, who can blame her? I'm a pretty lazy chef myself.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks and All That Jazz

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving. T-Day. Turkeyfest. Being a vegetarian, I'm pretty iffy about the holiday. Among other reasons, including my opinion that Thanksgiving brings out all the bad stereotypes non-Americans have of the United States and America. Shall I elaborate?

That's probably a good idea, since most people probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

1. Stuffing yourself until you can't move. Why does this iconic American holiday have to involve eating like a pig?  Can't we be thankful for what we've got without making and serving enough food to feed a continent, take up room in the refrigerator and be thrown out at the end of the month because we get sick of eating the same thing two weeks in a row? Or, have never touched certain leftovers (cranberry sauce, I'm looking at you).

2. Football. Although the Packers are undefeated (and my hometown pride really only kicks in when they're doing well), I am not actually much of a football fan, and I am even less of a fan of the tradition my family seems to have of shoveling forkfuls of rich, heavy food (supposed to be enjoyed slowly with conversation and company) just to catch the first touchdown - or kickoff, or whatever. Or even bringing the turkey and fixin's into the living room (freshly shampooed carpet be damned). What's the difference between that and any Sunday in football season, aside from substituting a turkey dinner with a delivery pizza - or a can of Cheez Wiz and a box of Ritz crackers?

3. Thanksgiving propaganda, i.e. pretending that America is a "melting pot" full of multicultural "tolerance" and "appreciation" when in fact after the first Thanksgiving - when the Wampanoags saved the Pilgrims' butts that winter of 1620-1621 - there was zero tolerance for anyone outside the Plymouth colony. For example, Squanto went to sea on a British vessel a couple of years after the "first" Thanksgiving as one of the eariliest New World interpreters (being basically bilingual), and came home years later to find his village had been destroyed by white settlers. Who does shit like that? And then brags about it by turning it into a national holiday? Americans, apparently. My beef is that, unlike Germans and Austrians, who own up to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism (most of the time), Americans sweep the entire history of slavery, Manifest Destiny and discrimination under the rug. Discovering the truth as a college student really put me off wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving. Sure, things are getting better. The History Channel at least has some quasi-informative documentaries that mention the Wampanoags. This article from Education World touches a bit more on the subject as it is taught in the classroom.

4. Black Friday. The absolute most disgusting aspect about Thanksgiving to me is the day after. When gorging yourself of turkey and pumpkin pie wasn't enough, you can empty your wallet a full month early to get Christmas presents for everyone on your list - that is if you don't get stampeded by angry housewives snatching up HDTVs, Chanel perfume and American Idol video games. Consumerism is king, apparently. What happened to caring about each other? Like what Thanksgiving - and Christmas, for all it's worth - is supposed to mean? Getting together with family and celebrating how wondrous and beautiful life is, not showing how much you love someone by what you've spent on them, or how early you got up on the day after Thanksgiving to get it for them. This year my sister is working at Younkers in Green Bay, and she doesn't even get to enjoy a full day off - she has to go in at midnight to field the Black Friday sales. Now, seriously. How ridiculous is it to make people working in retail skimp out on a FEDERAL HOLIDAY just because you want to buy crap you don't even need?

All that said, I don't dislike the idea behind Thanksgiving: sharing what you have with the people you love, giving thanks for all that you've been given in your life, taking the time to enjoy the company of loved ones, getting away from work for an extended weekend. Americans need to do these things more often. I guess, living in Austria, where every other saint's day is a day off of school, it feels like Thanksgiving is celebrated once a month, or maybe more: sharing good food with the people you love, spending time away from work and technology and just enjoying being a human being. It's a shame Americans seem to need an excuse to do this - a national holiday set aside to remember to be thankful, rather than feeling this way all the time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Oh, autumn! The most wonderful thing about autumn is the harvest - as it is getting closer to Thanksgiving, my American upbringing is kicking in and I am getting excited about stuffing and pumpkin pie! Here in Austria, the focus is not exactly on turkey and stuffing yourself until you explode, but quite a few seasonal delicacies have sprung up at the Naschmarkt, including mushrooms (it's mushroom season and a favorite Austrian pasttime is picking your own...) and Kürbis (translated as both "squash" and "pumpkin"). I've been experimenting with both ingredients, and since I decided to make a chantrelle (Eierschawmmerl) goulash for dinner, I thought I would flavor it with another favored Austrian autumn classic, a new wine! I made a little trip to Wein & Co. and then decided, while I was in the neighborhood, to visit the Naschmarkt and Flohmarkt.

Woman with Balloon-dog

I would count the Naschmarkt/Flohmarkt as one of the most wonderful things about living in Vienna. Yes, with all the tourist influx, the prices are a bit inflated and the stalls are a tad crowded on Saturdays, but still! I can't think of a bad thing to say about flea markets! To me, they are wondrous. And it is even more wondrous to me to look around the Flohmarkt in Vienna to see things that would never be sold in the United States!

For example (bad example, but a cultural example), the last time I was there (on my wine/Kürbis/mushroom trip) I saw a plaque for sale which said " Was würde der Führer sagen?" (What would the Führer say?) as well as a working 1900's gramophone, faux Oscar Kokoschkas and Franz Marcs, lace tablecloths and brass buttons (I did buy the buttons - and got a deal, too!). It seems to me, though this may be just some nostalgia kick and a "let's be down on America" thing - I try really hard to curb those, but sometimes they're really tempting, especially when you're abroad! - but seeing how many antiques are actually salvageable, and how interested Austrians are in preserving antiques, culture, and other signals of pre-now, pre-21st century. Yes, there was life before 2000! And the technology boom! And plastics! And people did reuse things at one point in history! America is a throwaway culture. There's no denying it. but there should be some steps taken to appreciate the past, and along with that, appreciate the present and the future - and the natural world!

I think because Austria has such a tangible and accessible history, it's easier to put things in perspective here. People still live in 400-year-old houses and have adapted their lives to fit with the lives lived by their ancestors. Instead of destroying and building anew, they build around. This, I think, is one of the more fascinating aspects of Europe, one Americans just don't get to experience typically, which awes them. 

Instead of thinking "Wow, Europe is so cool and old - " I think Americans should start thinking, "What can we share and preserve that is of cultural significance?" There's got to be something besides the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Swimming Pools and Movie Stars

An allusion to The Beverly Hillbillies, in case y'all didn't get it. ;)

The film crew have started filming as of today, and have been here in the apartment all week (if you don't remember why a film crew might be in my apartment, this post should refresh the memory). I will have as little comment as humanly possible in my post, mainly because, although I feel offended and intruded upon, I guess some people out there might think this is really cool.

One thing I have to point out is the effort they went through to make everything really "lived-in" and real - to the point of framing photos of the actors and replacing my landlady's family photos with fake ones. You can't really see the minuscule details in the photos, but presumably they will show up in film.

Here are photos of what they've done with the apartment to make it into a film set:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Famous Austrians VIII: Oskar Kokoschka

Woman with Parrot
The Expressionist painter and playwright Oskar Kokoschka was born in Pöchlarn, Lower Austria, in 1886 and is known outside Austria mostly for his portraits and landscapes, and sometimes for his affair with composer Gustav Mahler's wife Alma.

Kokoschka's family moved to Vienna when he was a boy, and while in school, he began to paint, developing an interest in the works of Van Gogh. He also emulated the Jugendstil (art nouveau) styles. He served in the Austrian army during World War I and wounded by a bayonette stuck into his lung while on the Ukranian front. In the hospital, doctors decided he was mentally unstable. When he was dismissed from the army in 1916, he traveled around Europe to continue painting, landing in Dresden in 1917. 

Dresden Neustadt
In 1931 he came back to Vienna, only to move to Prague in 1934 to escape the Nazis (he was considered a degenerate artist, an entartete Künstler by the regime). In 1938, when Hitler came to the Czech Republic, Kokoschka moved to London, where he was an active member of Young Austria, a group of exiled Austrians living in England and waiting out the the end of World War II. 

After the war, Kokoschka made it to Switzerland, where he lived out the rest of his life. The Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna (close to my apartment, actually!) has a permanent exhibit of his work.

Although he's oft-copied in Vienna (not as much as Klimt, dear God), I really enjoy Kokoschka's paintings for their bright colors and quasi-dreamscapes. Similar to my feelings about the Blaue Reiter, I think I will have to snag Franz Marc's comment about art being a continuation of our dreams. Just paraphrasing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Another side of Vienna

This music video was show by a teacher in one of my 7th forms as an exercise in telling directions in English, and I found myself really enjoying the song. And added bonus is that the music video was filmed in a Fiaker, one of those horse-drawn coaches that is extremely expensive (50 euros per 20 minutes) and goes around the first district (Innere Stadt) to see all of the lovely monuments.

For those of you asking to see more of Vienna, pay attention to the background of the video. Toward the end, they go past my street! I was pretty excited when I saw... 

Tanz Baby! Nur Du (2009)

Monday, October 31, 2011


Yes, the pun is stupid. But apropos, as today is Halloween! Boo.


Last year at this time, I was in Prague. We get a number of days off at the end of October in Austria, because not only is the Austrian national holiday on October 26, but because Austria is also a historically Catholic nation, All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day are also holidays - and because this year they land on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, we get Halloween off as well! 

Recently, I was asked to do a PowerPoint presentation on Halloween for the 2nd Form (roughly American 6th grade) and I found many interesting facts about Halloween in America as well as the historical significance of the holiday, among which include that Halloween is the #2 commercial holiday in the United States, the higher prevalence of "trunk-or-treating" (where overprotective parents can control where their kids get Halloween candy) and that no one really knows where Halloween comes from, but the top guesses historians have are 1) the Celtic festival of Samhain and 2) the Roman festival of Parentalia. My favorite part of Halloween used to be the candy. But, well, now being more mature and adult, I'd have to say I prefer the historical aspects. But my absolute favorite part is the idea that the earthly realm and the spirit world are closest between October 31 and November 1. And it's easier to tell the future with things like tarot cards and other types of fortune telling.

And here is my favorite animated piece set to music, which always reminds me of Halloween, and a little bit of Austria, too:

Night on Bald Mountain, Fantasia (1940)

Being in Vienna this year, I wonder what will be different. Of course, I'm not expecting too many trick-or-treaters, nor will I be going to the Geisterschloss  but I will be attending a costume party, and that will be in the spirit of things, so to speak.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Another one of those "found gems" i.e. found in my apartment, Love is a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, a cousin and contemporary of Katherine Mansfield.

Very Mansfield-esque for fans of her work (though von Arnim was also quite popular and widely read in her lifetime as well), the novel is about a woman and a man who share a love of The Immortal Hour, having seen the play nine times and thirty-six times, respectively. They fall in love despite social norms: she is forty-seven, he twenty-five. She is also the mother of a married woman (only nineteen, but still), and a soon-to-be grandmother.

But this love reaches across boundaries and social norms. Christopher loves Catherine determinedly, and she becomes enveloped in his love, just by the act of his loving her. Although during their courtship (one could say stalking on Christopher's part), Catherine think he is just a silly little boy, until she goes to visit her daughter (actually to escape Christopher). Once there, she realizes that her daughter and new son-in-law - actually older than Catherine at forty-nine - who are seemingly full of love, have no room for her. And his mother is a buzzard who makes things practically impossible for Catherine.

She basically goes running back into Christopher's arms.

However, since there is such talk among their acquaintances once they marry, Catherine feels she has to keep up with Christopher age-wise and invests in expensive hair and facial treatments to make her look younger. Ultimately, she looks haggard and decrepit without them, to Christopher's horror. He had never before noticed how much older she was than he, when she left well enough alone.

Actually, according to the afterward, the novel was based on an affair von Arnim had with a much younger man, Michael Frere. When they met in 1920, she was fifty-four and he twenty-four. Their affair was torrid, and though they did not last long as lovers, she helped him to hone his writing abilities and got him published for the first time. She also got an experimental and terribly unfortunate face life in the 1920s to "keep up" with Frere, just as Catherine does for Christopher.

I really enjoyed the book, I think because it appealed to my secret sentimental side but also discussed the idea of blindly accepting social standards as if they were God's will, and put in a good word about double standards in the context of "social norms."

Although the ending is tragic, and leaves the fate of its characters in an ambivalent state - definitely the last thing I wanted, actually, when I got into it and thought, "Oh, goody. A light and fluffy and fun romance." And then I read the forward to realize Elizabeth von Arnim was related to Katherine Mansfield.

All in all, an excellent read. My college professors would all pat me on the back for picking a real and literary novel over what I could have chosen (among them a murder mystery set in Vienna). And for reading the forward AND afterward. *Pats self on back.*