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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)