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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Family Values

Mom, Dad and Little Sister are here for two weeks to visit, after which I will be heading home for the summer. It's bittersweet, seeing them and sharing the past two years of my life intimately - going to all of my haunts, having them meet my friends. We're a close-knit family, but not in a creepy way. We all love and respect one another enough not to interfere with each other's lives. I've been living on the other side of the world for two years, for crying out loud! With my parents' blessing. And yet...the minute we get together, it's just like I'm 15 again, Sissy is 11, and this is just another family vacation.

It isn't, though. There's the rub. I have been living here, I've made my life in Vienna, for better or worse, but now  - just now that I feel as if everything is under control - I am going to leave to go home. I have been acting as tour guide and translator for the family for four days, and I'm exhausted. I was looking so forward to seeing everyone, and now it's as if all that is negated: like my life is being invaded.

It doesn't seem fair to everyone to say this, but it's how I feel. I know we'll get used to each other in a few days, and things will be fine. I still have to work, and pack. I'm worried about making sure everyone has a good time, about my luggage being overweight when I get to the airport, about finishing the school year on a good note and not sloughing off my duties just because my family's here - the list goes on.

My life here has been independent until now. I haven't had to be part of a family, really, but just look out for myself. The feeling is so freeing and nonrestrictive, it's like being high. It's something I needed - I still need - to be an adult, unburdened and happy about it. I keep thinking, even though Mom and I have been planning their trip for several months, my lifestyle had changed in a snap - overnight - and in two weeks, it will change again in an instant.

I wonder: am I ready to move on - and what have I truly learned from Austria?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wonder Years Never Cease...

Vienna is full of American ex-pats, and they all seem to love it here. The city has been a melting pot for generations, and there is more diversity in this city than any other central European capital, I'd wager - even Berlin. This is good and bad.

There are several wonderful influences from the eastern European cultures and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Palatschinken is one - despite its name, the dish is vegetarian friendly (they're basically pancakes. The name is derived from Latin): 

Other culinary delicacies, not unique to the Wiener Küche, have come to symbolize Austria - grace à empirical conquest (Schnitzel, for example, has Venetian origins) - and for those who insist all things Austrian are indeed Austrian, I suggest taking a look at contemporary Austria's charming yet less well-to-do neighbors. They most certainly would have a different story to tell.

Herein lies the problem: though Austria has been a melting pot since Habsburg times, it seems that, after a generation or two, no Serbian or Slovakian wishes to remember they had ever been anything other than Austrian. This reinforces the unfortunate aspects of of a closed society that still permeate the Austrian mentality: Austrian, good; Other, bad. This is oversimplification for effect, but I don't seen anything wrong with that.

The coolest thing about Austria is not its culture, which is not all that unique when considering the German-speaking world as a whole, but its topography and climate: the Alps. It's a well-known criticism that mountain people are a little kooky, with the reputation of being hicks, but, still, lovable - how else can you explain my 15-year-old students' love for John Denver? (Outside of Vienna, what part of Austria isn't  "Country Roads"?)

This brings me to an Austro-American comparison: we North Americans, too, have a melting pot - many would say the USA is the original melting pot...I don't know about that. (May I, for instance, bring up Ancient Rome?) We, too, seem to promote integration or segregation  - or did, up until the 1960s and the Civil Rights movements. 

In many ways, the United States lives in a fantasy world of past glories and triumphs, i.e. the end of World War II, the 1950s, when we helped Europe rebuild, we gained the reputation of being the world's policemen, and America was - in one way or another - the greatest country on Earth. Despite blatant evidence to the contrary, I'm afraid plenty of Americans still feel this way.

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like it's a lot of hype over nothing to remember the glory days of yore. I would rather live in the present. What's past is past, and now more than ever, the world is changing at a fantastically rapid pace, practically from day to day. For the sake of each nation's collective psychic well-being, I hope my host country and home country both come to their senses, and stop playing the "Remember When?" game, like a couple of nursing home dandies.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Famous Austrians XIII: Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner, the esoteric writer, philosopher and founder of the Waldorf educational method (known as Steiner schools in German-speaking regions), was born in Murakirály, Austria-Hungary, now part of Croatia, in 1861 to a telegraph operator and a housemaid. The family moved to Lower Austria when Rudolf was a young child. He studied at the Vienna Institute of Technology and in 1891 he earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Rostock in Germany.

Steiner had a number of spiritual experiences as a boy, including premonitions of the spirits of dead relatives. He became a Goethe scholar as a young man, accepting a position as editor at the Goethe archives in Weimar. He also worked on the Nietsche archives with Friedrich Nietsche's sister Elisabeth from 1896 (Friedrich Neitsche being at the time non compos mentis).

In 1902, Steiner founded the German-speaking branch of the Theosophical Society, whose aims were to investigate the divine mysteries of the world, including esoteric branches of extant religions, and to promote Eastern spirituality (i.e. Hindu teachings) in the West.  Steiner later broke with the Theosophists and formed his own group, the Anthroposophical Society.

Steiner had quite radical leftist political and social views which made him an outsider in Germany at the end of World War I. For example, he proposed Silesian independence, which greatly angered right-wing politicians, including Hitler. After having lived in Berlin for much of his adult life, he moved to Switzerland to continue his spiritual research out of reach of his prime opponents - the National Socialists.

Along with social activism, Steiner worked on educational reform (resulting in his theory of Waldorf education), and religious and spiritual reform, which included  the incorporation of reincarnation and karma into Christian philosophy (beliefs later adopted by the Rosicrucian Fellowship). 

Though he was considered kind of a kook during his lifetime, Rudolf Steiner's reforms are far-reaching in a number of different fields, making him a true Renaissance man, and giving an Austrian example of a liberal thinker.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't You Have Any Standards?

It has come to my attention, being a German student in Austria, the the language changes when you cross the border - it can actually change from town to town in the mountainous regions - Austrian German is distinct from Germany German, and not just in the accent or slang terms. Similar to British English and American English (though the differences are not quite so dramatic), each country has its own language standard.  This means that Austrian Standard German differs from Germany Standard German in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary, and to some degree grammar. Though I've heard one is older than the other (and I must admit Austrian German seems to me to use more old-fashioned terms), I think they're about equal in that regard.

The German language is overseen by a governing body, similar to the French language Académie (but not as strict). Konrad Duden was the first German grammarian to write down the rules of the language in the Duden Handbook in 1880 - still the dictionary of choice for many. Because of this very late standardization, there are lots and lots of regional differences in the German language.

Here are some notable ones I've picked up on:

Austrian                                                             German                                                  English

Aula                                                    Hörsaal                                                 auditorium
Bücherei                                              Bibliothek                                             library
Diele                                                   Vorzimmer                                            hallway
Eierspeisen                                          Rühreier                                                scrambled eggs
Erdapfel                                              Kartoffel                                                potato
Faschiertes                                          Hackfleisch                                           ground beef
Fisolen                                                Gartenböhnen                                       green beans
Frühjahr                                              Frühling                                                spring
Fußgeher                                             Fußgänger                                            pedestrian
Heuer                                                  dieses Jahr                                            this year
Jänner                                                  Januar                                                  January
Karfiol                                                 Blumenkohl                                          cauliflower
Kasten                                                 Schrank                                               wardrobe
Kiste                                                    Kasten                                                 box
Kohlsprossen                                       Rosenkohl                                            Brussels sprouts
Kren                                                    Meerrettisch                                         horseradish
Marillien                                               Aprikosen                                            apricots
Melanzani                                            Aubergine                                             eggplant
Paradeiser                                           Tomate                                                 tomato
Palatschinken                                      Pfannkuchen                                          pancakes
Rauchfang                                           Schornstein                                           chimney
 Schafblättern                                      Windpocken                                         chicken pox
Schale                                                 Schüssel                                                bowl
Schlagobers                                         Schlagsahne                                          whipped cream
Semmel                                                Brötchen                                               bun/hard roll
Sessel                                                  Stuhl                                                      chair
Stiege                                                  Treppe                                                   stairs
Topfen                                                Quark                                                    cream cheese

Any important words I've left out? Please post in the comments!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

One More Month

On June 8, I will be flying back to the United States for the summer. Although I'm sure with time and distance I will miss Vienna terribly, I am currently very happy with my ticket purchase and - more importantly - with my decision to go home.

I've been debating whether or not to do the summer camp for a second year. I decided against it, since, when I'm honest with myself, I am quite homesick. My parents are coming to visit on May 25, and that will cheer me up. I thought I might want a bit of time to myself after they left, perhaps another week to say goodbye to Vienna on my own. My living situation unfortunately does not allow for that, so my decisions are not my own, at least not entirely.

Since this is my last year with the teaching program, and I have not pursued a means to stay in Austria, I will not be coming back to Vienna to live anytime soon, but I will be in Europe (France) again next year. After some thought, I've decided this feels right to me. I need a familiar change in my life. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it's not. I need a situation different from the one I'm in, but not so different that it will be worse. Thus, I would like to do something I'm familiar with, but haven't done before. This precludes moving back home to Green Bay, at least permanently.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Linzer Weekend

A few weekends ago, I went to Linz for the weekend to catch up with some old friends from Amstetten, and accompany Jake in meeting some of his distant relatives in Bad Ischl. It was an interesting experience.

First, on Friday, I went to a whiskey convention (my first) at the Arcotel convention center with several other teaching assistants in Linz, which, I'll be honest, I didn't really enjoy. I'm definitely more of a wine gal, so the whiskey - even the good stuff - was lost on me. I'd like to try new things, and I did end up enjoying some of the Scotches they had on sample, but I don't know the  first thing about a good whiskey. And, predictably, my taste runs expensive. After an afternoon of sampling, I guess for now I'll stick with wine.

There was also a wine convention (festival?) in Linz at the mall on Saturday. I would have liked to stay and go through the different wines, like we did with the whiskey, but we had to get to Bad Ischl. Seems either the hangovers were too much to plunge in, or I'm the only wino in the bunch. Anyway, I stayed long enough to get a couple of bottles of wine, which will certainly go up on Wine Snobbery on a Budget.

Jen, Jake and I went to a pottery class at the Volkshochschule. That was possibly the most fun of the weekend. I hadn't worked with clay since elementary school, and I had never thrown anything on a wheel before. I tried, but my technique needs lots of improvement. I didn't make anything except blobs that fell apart on the wheel, so I stuck with hand molding, and made this person:

I call it "Napping Nude #1" !

And there were other, finished pieces that had already been fired and glazed. They looked pretty good. A lot of creativity running around Linz! Jen did some great stuff, and this one guy made a fountain.

Saturday saw us taking the train to Bad Ischl to meet Jake's relatives his mother found through genealogical research. I think it's wonderful to have found them, and to share all of this family history, but I couldn't help but feel, though he and Eleonora, the woman we met, share a common ancestor four generations back (her grandfather and his great-grandfather were brothers), having coffee with them, family tree spread across the small round marble cafe table, reinforced the fact that they were still strangers despite this connection.

To be honest, I've never really cared much for genealogy, though it is amazing the facts you can dig up by following someone's family line. I guess to me the interesting part would be not who is related to whom, but more the stories you could find from learning about people in the past - your past. Or your present. I doubt I will ever meet Eleonora again, but it was curious to see how a life can be altered by one person moving to a new country. It makes me wonder how globalization will change immigration.

 Here are photos of Bad Ischl:

view from the train

Bad Ischl is famous for being a spa/resort town, the one in fact where the empress Sophie (mother of Franz Joseph I) came to get infertility treatments...they must have worked, since she conceived Franz Joseph. It was also a favorite of Franz Joseph's wife, Sisi. Though, she did take any excuse for a vacation. The Kursalons (spa centers) are still being run and going strong, though they're quite pricey for being given in such a famous place.


very famous "Trinkhaus"

I will curb my ranting for some beautiful scenery, namely the river Ischl:

And back to Linz: this is the house Johannes Kelper (the father of modern astronomy) lived in:

And the Marienkirche (practically every town in Austria has one):

And a beautifully blossoming tree in the courtyard of the Standesamt:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

This novel, by Louis de Bernieres is charming, funny, and one of those novels that, though brilliant, knows of its own brilliance and aims for accolades while reaching mediocrity.

I picked up Captain Corelli's Mandolin from the shelf in my room, because it was there. I'd heard of the movie, and seen an excerpt in one of the students' books in school. I figured I might as well give it a try, since the World War II theme is ever-popular (and often present) in conversations I seem to be having - with others and myself. Plus, I've been contemplating writing my own historical novel. So far it's been without success, but the thought still surfaces now and then.

The story takes place just before the outbreak of World War II on the Greek island of Cephallonia, where the locals live as their ancestors did one hundred years prior, simple lives without electricity or running water. A love story emerges, that of the local doctor's daughter, Pelagia, and the young fisherman Mandras.

However, Madras enlists once the war begins. He wants to be a hero and prove himself to Pelagia. During his absence, she loses her love for him because he does not reply to her letters (he is illiterate) and once he returns, she wants nothing to do with him. He joins the communists and holes up in the mountains with the ELAS.

Meanwhile, Mussolini's troops roll into town. Heading them is Capatian Corelli, a consummate musician. He plays the mandolin, and would like to become a professional in an orchestra after the war. He meets Pelagia, and the two fall in love, slowly but deeply.

Trouble brews in 1943. The Germans demand Italy turn Greece over to them, and the Italians refuse. A massacre ensuses, and Corelli escapes. Pelagia knows he must flee - this is best, the only way for them all to survive. Years (and I'm talking years) later, Corelli and Pelagia are reunited. Happily ever after, it seems.

The novel is expansive, over 400 pages, and spans several decades, focusing for the most part on the 1930s and 1940s and the occupation of Cephallonia by the Italians. It is ultimately a love story that incorporates war, music, a critique of antiquity versus modernity, and the idea that, according to de Bernieres, "history ought to be made up of the stories of ordinary people only."

This idea, though noble, seems to be the reason novels exist; histories are for the victorious politicians and memoirs are for the famous. As a historical novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolini did its duty. I enjoyed every bit of the gripping, gory, thrilling and romantic story. I found the characters human; I could relate to them, I could love them and worry about them and want the best for them. But, it must be said: I knew it was made up.  That neither changed my feelings about the novel, nor did it prompt me to dismiss everything I'd ever heard about World War II. It did make me think that there is more to history than what meets the eye in the average text. For that, I'm glad I read it.

But, frankly, the ending sucked. I'll have to watch the movie to see if they changed it to be more "Hollywood." I which case, I might just change my mind about the book's ending...