Search This Blog

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Neu für Alt

Out with the old...and in with the new?

At the end of the month, I will be moving to the South of France to teach English...again.

Thanks, everyone who followed this blog! I am starting a new one, to make things less confusing.

If you are interested in continuing to follow my travels, follow this link to L'Oiseau Rebelle.


Bonne lecture!


Friday, August 31, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I've been home for two months now, and this distance from Vienna has made me consider many things about the past two years.

What have I learned in Austria?

1. Things on one side of the world are often very similar to things on the other, except for the expected linguistic difference.
2. Germany German and Austrian German are not the same.
3.  A big city is not a small town.
4. The Alps are magnificent. Alpine culture is fascinating, but not for everyone.
5. I can keep a blog better than I can keep a diary.
6. I should probably keep both a blog and a diary so I do not inadvertently over-share.
7. High schools students, re: #1
8. Certain cultural experiences are unavoidable.
9. Certain cultural differences are inexplicable.
10. The cultural differences that are both unavoidable and inexplicable will change you forever. They may also drive you crazy.
11. Americans claim to know nothing about Austria aside from schnitzel and Schwarzenegger, but if Americans actually knew what Austrian things have permeated our culture, they'd be a little freaked out.
12. Things that ALL Americans know but don't necessarily know are Austrian: apple strudel, Red Bull, Lipizzaner horses, the Austrian Alps, the Trachten, the croissant (yes, really!), the coffee house.
13. Once an Empire, always an Empire.
14. The farther east you go in Europe, the tougher it is to be vegetarian.
15. Even obstinate and independent gals will eventually miss their family.

What will I miss about Austria?

Well, I haven't been having any major waves of reverse culture shock. The scenery is a lot nicer in Austria, but the people are friendlier here - nothing beats good old American enthusiasm, though it does get annoying. I've lamented already about the overwhelming wait staff at restaurants in Green Bay, versus the more subtle Europeans (though my parents prefer the former). I miss the Austrian sense of historical perspective, the good food and - though I have noticed drastic changes in the marketing and distributing of "eco-friendly" products in the USA since my departure - the eco-consciousness of Austria as a whole.

Leaving Austria was not as sad as I had anticipated. It sort of felt like breaking up with someone you know isn't right for you anyway, even though they're a great person. Yeah. I'll leave it at that. After all, I'll always have my memories.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mach Ma Party

So...we decided to have a party when I got back to the States to celebrate all the Austrian thing I experienced for the past two years.

chocolates - received as "going away" present

Yeah, I've been back since June. It's been interesting being back, since most everything is the same as how I left it. Weirdest was when I dated something as being in 2010 a few days ago--like the past two years haven't even existed! But they have, and that's what worries me.

I baked a Sachertorte for our guests, and Mom and I found Austrian and Hungarian wine at Festival Foods. Honestly, I was most excited about that--you don't find Grüner Veltliner in the States very often, which is likely because of the wine scandal in 1985. Some vintners were putting antifreeze in their wine. I found an old New York Times article on the subject for those interested: thank God for internet archiving!

Anyway, that's old news, and most Austrian winemakers work above board nowadays!

The party was yesterday, and went over quite well. We made a PowerPoint slideshow, Mom make Kaisersemmeln and pizza with eggplant (which she thinks is Austrian) and we enjoyed the company of some great people. We shared stories, and I got to see people I haven't seen for a very long time.

I feel like I'm getting closer to being at peace with my Austrian persona and American persona the more distance I get. Is that normal? I suppose it is. I felt for a while that, being in Austria, I didn't have much perspective on myself, but now I do.

It's gratifying, and not just because I can pig out on Mozartkugeln.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Another note on Austrian pronunciation: do you know what an Ohrschluck is? How about an Arschloch? In Austria, they're the same thing: an asshole.

At one point in my meanderings around Vienna this year, I somehow made it to Westbahnhof U-Bahn station at the rush hour, to spot a young man with a backpack run out of the southbound U-3 train and headlong into an older man using a cane. This older man proclaimed, in a dignified and quiet manner, the Viennese pronunciation of a common German-language vulgarity, which I took to mean "ear drink" quite literally.

"How quaint!" I thought. "How remarkable. I wonder what Ohrschluck could mean?"

It was not until I got home, and - in vain - tried to look up this "colloquialism" to realize that the stately, cane-wielding gentleman simply elongated his "a's" and his "o's" to the point of incomprehension (for a non-Austrian). I should have guessed!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Don Quixote (the ballet)

Another of the great attractions I took my parents to was the Wiener Staatsoper. Since I figured they would rather see a ballet than an opera in a foreign language (and the only other thing playing was Wagner - yuck). Plus, my parents have taken up ballroom dancing, and become avid dancers. A ballet is right up their alley.

I myself love the ballet as well, and I wish I had gone to more while I was in Vienna! Though I am ridiculously uncoordinated, I did take ballet lessons for several years as a little girl. I decided I would make a magnificent ballerina - if only I didn't have to be dictated to and oppressed by the rhythm of the music! Ah well.

Don Quixote is a great comic ballet. I've seen Swan Lake at La Scala in Milan, and the Nutcracker a million times every Christmas season on TV, but that is the extent of my live ballet experience. Vienna does the Nureyev choreography, and it was truly magnificent. I can't help but feel I've missed out on something, going to all those operas all year instead! 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spanish Riding School

Lipizzaner in regalia

One of the great tourist destinations in Vienna I wanted to take my family to was the Spanische Hofreitschule, or Spanish Riding school. Mom likes horses, and these are one-of-a-kind, pretty stinking cool horses. Tickets for a show are ridiculously expensive (on their website you can check price listings) but tickets to their morning exercises are relatively cheap by comparison. 

We did this, along with taking a tour of the stables, which are purportedly cleaner than most hotel rooms in Vienna. Since the horses are only trained and bred in Austria, they are well cared-for. 

performance ring
 The story of Lipizzaner is an interesting one. The name of the breed comes from the Slovenian town of Lipica, where the horses originated. Bred from Arabian stock, they were brought from Spain to Austria by the Habsburgs, specifically Maximilian II, in the 16th century. They were originally trained in a military capacity, but now are trained for the show.

Six original foundation stallions were bred in the 18th century, along with 20 mares, which means all the Lipizzaners in world can count one of these six stallions as an ancestor (if horses are into genealogy) and the stables make sure to include each of these stallions in the naming of the contemporary horses. It is curious to note that only stallions are allowed to be trained as Lipizzaner performers. Thing is, the presence of female horses would distract the boys too much while they're performing their exercises. In accordance, only men were traditionally allowed to become trainers and riders, but the Spanish Riding school decided to allow women to become trainers as well in 2009. There are currently three women Lipizzaner riders at the school.

performance hall
Another curiosity of the Spanish Riding School is that they prefer riders who have not had previous riding experience, since the skill set to perform with a Lipizzaner is so specific (and those training the horses may slip into old habits such as, God forbid, English standard rather than classical dressage) that preservation of the school is paramount. Those between the ages of 18 and 25 interested in a career as a rider may apply, providing adequate German language skills and minimal professional horse experience. A rider may be able to perform in five years, with little to no horse experience going in, so they can't be too old when they start.

 The performance hall was commissioned by Charles IV in 1729, and is really fit for an emperor! The floor is sand, which means the horses do not need to be shoe'd - in fact, putting shoes on them would hinder their performance, especially on the high jumps, etc. (Shoes throw off a horse's balance.) We did not get to see much at the Morning Exercises, unfortunately. But--they don't promise much, just what the horses and/or riders need to work on.

being led to stables
Another note: it may or may not be well known that all Lipizzaners are born black and slowly turn white as they grow and age. It takes about seven years for a horse to be trained (and for a rider to train them) and, although a horse may be technically proficient before--or in--seven years, he may not perform in the expensive evening show until he has turned completely white. Certain horses, due to inherent flukes in selective breeding, may never turn white. This is very rare, but tragically, a horse is not allowed to perform until he has become white.

Interesting fact: during World War II, the Spanish Riding school would have perished were it not for American General George S. Patton. (The Russians wanted to slaughter the horses for meat). He was a horse lover and petitioned to get the horses safely out of Vienna. His 60th anniversary rescue of the horses was recently celebrated by the Spanish Riding School. Not that this has sparked great love and admiration for Americans by the Viennese, but: Where there's a will, there's a way!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

KUNSTHALLE: Parallelwelt Zirkus

One of the museums I went to see with my family was the KUNSTHALLE, a contemporary art museum in the Museumsquartier, very near to where I live.

Alexander Calder

The KUNSTHALLE (simply named: it translates literally as "art hall" or "art gallery") is a perennial favorite of mine, since it's so fresh and kooky - you never know what you'll get - from feminist pop art to Salvador Dali!

Not that I don't appreciate the pomp of the Kunsthistorisches Museum or the Belvedere or the Albertina; I do indeed. The Albertina is actually my favorite museum in Vienna, followed perhaps by the KUNSTHALLE. I consider myself an eclectic patron of the arts...well "patron" might be going too enthusiast?

Anyway, the exhibit was about the circus, most specifically the circus as a parallel universe: the freaks and geeks and carnival sideshows, but also the animals, the acrobats and performers. The clowns, the artistry and magnificence that goes into creating "the Greatest Show on Earth."

One part of the exhibit particularly moved me: the video of an elderly gentleman exhibiting his "circus," i.e. mobiles presented as a three-ring-parade. Or, as my sister said, "Some creepy old guy playing with toys in his attic." I feel that misses the point, but she is a scientist, after all. Mom said, "Hey, I think that's Alexander Calder," and indeed it was the famous American mobile artist Alexander Calder performing his "Cirque Calder" in an attic in Paris. I found him charming. Here is a clip, courtesy of YouTube and the Whitney Museum.

A lot of people have weird obsessions with the circus. Not just Austrians. I think it has to do with the conglomeration of the fringe elements of society gathered under one big tent. Not just the exotic animals (banned, actually, in Austria) but the exotic people. Acrobats and jugglers who train their whole lives to excel at a sport most would not ever claim is really all that difficult or amazing. But, to those who make such a claim: have you ever tried it?

A former student of mine is incredibly fond of juggling. I think he might even want to do such a thing as a profession. I wonder what his parents would say? And that's just the point.

As a kid, I wanted to run away and join the circus. Maybe become a clown. It was probably at the impetus of a favorite children's book, Rotten Ralph. In it, a very mean red cat named Ralph runs away and joins the circus. He hates it there because he's made to perform as a clown and everyone is mean to him; in other words, he gets a taste of his own medicine.

Although I've since given up ambitions to be a circus performer, there is still a draw of the theatrics for me. To the circus? At the least, I can live vicariously through such things as art exhibitions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Famous Austrians XIV: Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Schrödinger is generally considered the father of quantum mechanics, and the man behind the famous "Schrödinger's cat" theory in quantum physics.

Born in Vienna in 1887, Schrödinger was a gifted mathematics student and devoured the works of Schopnehauer. He earned his doctorate in 1914 (receiving the highest honors possible) and later that year worked as a commissioned officer in World War I. After the war, he had several professorships at leading European universities before winding up at the University of Zurich.

In 1935, he worked on his Schrödinger's cat experiment with Einstein, and won the Nobel prize. Due to an unorthodox lifestyle (living with his wife and mistress and expecting the university to fund what no doubt had been labeled as - at the least - licentious), he found it easy to find - yet difficult to keep - a professorial position. He accepted visiting positions, from Berlin to Graz to Oxford.

Because of his known anti-Nazi position, after the Anschluss in 1939, he could no longer life and work in Germany (Austria) and found himself in Dublin at the Institute for Advanced Studies.

For those of you unfamiliar with the quantum theory of physics, it is fascinating, though a little freaky. Basically, everything you know about physics can be thrown out the window when applying quantum theory because there are more than the three dimensions we know exists. Scientists are unsure of the number of dimensions that do exist, but current estimates are up to eleven - ELEVEN! That's so awesome, it's almost hard to believe!

Because of Schrödinger, much of the current research done in the quantum realm is in Vienna, though there is also plenty of research being done throughout the rest of the world, including in Paris and many parts of the United States. For more information, PBS has a good explanation - plus, the related (but different) string theory.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

MAK it Yourself

In my quest to get the most out of Vienna, a couple of weeks ago, Jake and I decided to brave the Museum für angewandete Kunst, or, the Museum of Applied Arts. It's free on Saturdays, 90% of its appeal. Not that I don't like furniture. It's a necessary part of life! I am not too keen on calling it art, though.

The Viennese seem to be perpetually atwitter about applied arts, however: just think of the hundreds of antiques stores that dot the city! And don't get me wrong, there were plenty of cool things in the museum.

Here are some pictures: 

Do-up of Rococo room

Persian rugs and imperial family:


Porcelain figurines: 

Coffee pot:

Stained glass windows: 

Blown glass and cut glass dishware: 

Do-up of industrial kitchen:

Batik wallpaper: 

Furnace or samovar (What are these called?):

Ingenious recycling plan that uses dead people as pigeon feed and fertilizer (ultimately doing away with cemeteries and landfills, but keeping the distinctly loveable Wiener Schmäh):

Cake decorator, like used at Aida and other Viennese bakeries:

...and right behind the cake display is the dead-body-recycling display:

A "wool" coat made out of human hair: 

and shoes!!

Gustav Kilmt museum exhibit #3092 in Vienna -- his other mural sketches:

And finally, a view of the building:

 Like 85% of the public buildings in Vienna (including university buildings, public toilets, spas, museums, theaters, and pre-war carnival pavilions), the MAK is an extraordinarily beautiful building. I guess it goes to show, time and again, that Vienna is a city that was built for an emperor! No skimping on the marbled columns, hand-painted ceilings, or mosaic glass windows. After all, what emperor in his right mind would have a budget?