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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Naturbad Amstetten: a Review of the Pool and Brainstorming Session

A few weeks ago, I discovered Amstetten's public swimming pool.

Not thinking much of swimming in a pool...especially since these sorts of things are hit or miss...I had actually known about the pool since November, but decided not to go. I was afraid it would be dozens of screaming children running around scantily clad and under light (if sometimes nonexistent) supervision by parents and/or babysitters.

Nevertheless, I decided to check it out. Spurred into a new fitness kick, I thought I would take up swimming again after a LONG hiatus (by "long" I'm talking a couple of years). And I was pleasantly surprised - at first - by the lack of screaming children, the sauna/steam room/whirlpool/restaurant areas...and the fact that there are massages available as well (for an added fee). At the slick price of €3.50 for an hour and a half, or €7 for four hours, this is possibly the best thing to do in Amstetten,

There are other, free things to do in Amstetten, such as going to church or going for a walk. Depending on your tastes, attitude and cash flow, I can recommend certain enjoyable activities: grocery shopping, drinking and going to the CCA (City Center Amstetten, i.e. the mall)...going for a gelato at the Cafe Excel, loitering in front of the ATOLL skate park/Jugendzentrum, and going to a musical and/or theatrical evening at the Pölz Halle...and now, I think I've covered each and every activity to partake in in Amstetten.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Best American Short Stories of 2010

I recently finished a book I purchased in the O'Hare airport waiting for my plane to arrive as I prepared to return to Austria from Christmas at home.

Well, I have been reading other things in between. In my defense, I would like to say it took me so long to finish the collection because I wanted to savor each story - I didn't want to gorge myself of these stories and then have nothing left!

As a writer, I most identify with the short story form. I find novel writing tedious...a bit too much of a commitment. I never think of enough to say, and I like the impact a good short story can make. The brevity, the irony, and the element of surprise. Call me old-fashioned. Maybe I should have been born in the 19th century when O. Henry was running around making it big?

But, no. I hate 19th century literature. I mean, Dickens, for example. The guy didn't know when to shut up! Who gives a damn about the lace curtains? The wedding cake rotting on Miss Havisham's boudoir table? Answer: No one. Or Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter - yawn! Stop. Moralizing. Every. Single. Character. Who are you, anyway, to presuppose your morality onto anyone else? Like you're so perfect. Or Melville? Moby Dick? Aside from being the punchline to some teenager's joke, what merit does it have in today's world? Whaling is evil, not whales.

Anyway, onto the CONTEMPORARY writing, of which I am very fond! These stories, it must be said, were also hit or miss. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with publishers of literary journals 100% of the time, and, well, Richard Russo (editor) did a pretty good job, but I still have a few bones to pick.

First, what I loved:
Safari - Jennifer Egan
Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go - Danielle Evans
Delicate Edible Birds - Lauren Groff
Painted Ocean, Painted Ship - Rebecca Makkai
Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events - Kevin Moffet
All Boy - Lori Ostlund
The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach - Karen Russell
The Netherlands Lives with Water - Jim Shepard

And what I hated:
Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched - Steve Almond
The Cousins - Charles Baxter
The Laugh - Tea Obreht

The ones I loved relied on irony, twisting expectations, relationships, the beauty of a double entendre, and had fabulous characters I could relate to. They were each quite different in style and setting, but to me the style and setting matter little, as long as they are relevant to the content, well done and well researched (if the setting is historical), or well thought-out (if the setting is sci-fi or fantasy). I noticed quite a number of stories this year were set in the near future and had some sort of global warming hypothesis...sort of scary, since we're living it (or our children will live it) and pretty cool at the same time.

The ones I hated, I'll admit, maybe I didn't get. But they were either god-awful boring, had a stupid ending or just plain didn't make sense. I think Charles Baxter get into anthologies like these just because he's Charles Baxter. But I may be wrong.

The rest were more or less average, unmemorable or otherwise OK - nothing to report.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memoiren eines mittelmäßigen Schülers

A book loaned to me by one of the teachers at the HAK, Memoiren eines mittelmäßigen Schülers (tr: Memoirs of an Average Student), is a semi-autobiographical and historical journey by German writer Alexander Spoerl.

I enjoyed the book very much. The style is easy to get into. The writing is simple and informative - almost conversational. The story begins as Jakob van Tast waits in the hospital for his son to be born. The time is late 40's or early 50's. Jakob, with nothing else to do, returns to his own childhood within the narrative. This story takes us from a little boy behaving badly to a young man (uninterested, not finding his niche) desiring to be free of school, to a young man working as an apprentice in Berlin, to a young man drafted into Hitler's army. Later, through each of these adventures, and frames of mind, we come to recognize the whole man who has formed from these fragments of persona. At the end, Jakob not only discovers the birth of his daughter (an ironic view of men and their perception of their offspring as an extension of themselves?) but reunites with (i.e. sees) an old teacher of his from the Gymnasium, who has completely forgotten who he is. Only "average" students are rarely remembered by teachers, sorry to say. We remember the excellent ones and the terrible ones - with behavior problems - most of all, especially after 20, 30 or 40 years...

I loved the irony. I loved the honesty. I loved that Spoerl made no bones about Hitler, the Third Reich and all that bullshit in 1950, no less, right after the war! Jakob falls in love with a Jewish girl, has an affair with the wife of an officer while in the army...things that make for a juicy story. And yet, that's not the point. Jakob's growth as a human being is of importance, not the juicy details of plot, but his existential qualities. It reminded me of Camus. Without all of that freaky-weird imagery.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Grüß Gott

At the six month mark in Austria, I am still a bit shy about something...saying "Grüß Gott" to people in the neighborhood.

Now, some of you might be thinking, "Huh? Why's that? Aren't you supposed to say hello to people when you see them?" or, "LOLZ! Austrians really say 'Greet God' to one another? We-eird!" or maybe even, "Mom always said, 'Don't talk to strangers!'"

My shyness basically stems from all the times I say hello to someone who a) snorts with indignation, or b) has to calm their dog down so it doesn't maul me while I am walking my favorite path around Amstetten. I often find the situation goes in one of these directions:

Me: Look! Another person. OK, this is easy. Just say "Grüß Gott" when they get close enough.
(walking...person is 3-4 meters away...)
Me: Grüß Gott!
Person: Grüß Gott.


Me: Look! Another person. OK, this is easy. Just say "Grüß Gott" when they get close enough.
(walking...person is 3-4 meters away...)
Me: Grüß Gott!
Person: (eyebrow lift and/or sneer)


Me: Look! Another person. OK, this is easy. Just say "Grüß Gott" when they get close enough.
(walking...notice dog not attached to leash. Their dog?)
(walking...person and dog are 3-4 meters away...)
Me: (staring into dog's eyes thinking, You are sooooooo cute! Forget to say "Grüß Gott.")
Person: What a rude girl. She did not even say hello!

Or, what happened yesterday:

Me: Look! Another person. OK, this is easy. Just say "Grüß Gott" when they get close enough.
(walking...notice dog not attached to leash. Their dog?)
(walking...person and dog are 3-4 meters away...)
Dog: Strange person! Probably foreign. I will jump at her and freak her out! Arf arf! Growl! GRRRRRRRR!
Me: EEP! (look at person)
Person: Hör auf, du Freche! 
(translation: Stop it, sassy! I assumed referring to the dog...)

And yet, I persist...Grüß Gott or die!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Famous Austrians II: Franz Klammer

Franz Klamemer at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck
Austria is known for its skiing - and its skiers. One of the most famous is Franz Klammer (or, as one of my students called him, "Hans" Klammer...even if they are Austrian, it doesn't mean they worship the skiing world) ;)

Klammer grew up in Mooswald, Carinthia, which is uncommon for an Austrian skier (most grow up in Salzburg or Tyrol where the "real" mountains are) and won gold in 1976 in Innsbruck, skiing down hill 1/3 of a second faster than some other guy. He participated in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo as well, where he did not do so hot. He later had a career as a touring car racer. In certain ways, he shares a likeness to American Olympic skier Bode Miller. Aside from the skiing and car racing, however, this is not exactly complimentary...

Some consider him the reason Austrian skiing is known worldwide. He is currently a TV sports commentator, not an uncommon career path for many a sports legend.