Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Viva la Vida

The easiest thing to remember in a foreign country is Carpe Diem but it is also the quickest thing that you forget. The best thing to do is DO the thing you want as soon as you can - the next minute, hour, or day. Don't say 'next week' or 'next month'. Time doesn't exist like that. Sure, you might say: I'll do that the next time the sun's shining or the weather is nice. You know what? Screw the weather. Unless it's a typhoon, blizzard, or some such other DANGEROUS weather anomaly. Then the weather will probably screw you.


If it's just raining, run out and do it. The experience will be all the more original. I got caught in that trap over here too much and too often. Now I've run out of 'next week's and 'next month's. All I have is today (well, and a few more days).

I spent Saturday with my teachers grading the last little bit of Matura. My teach picked me up at 9:30am and I stayed with her till about 2pm. We lunched on Hendelsbacken, which reminds me of fried chicken. My teacher drove me from her beautiful house, situated deep out in the countryside, back to school in town. I then spent about 2 final hours with another teacher before finishing up the day with an hour of tutoring.

I've been tutoring a 16-17 year old Soccer Boy for the past few months and we've been working hard but he never manages to improve his grade. Tomorrow is his big test and I PRAY that he gets a decent score. Otherwise, I will feel pretty crappy as a teacher and a little guilty for taking his money.

On Sunday, I went to a different teacher's house by bike - after some minor detours and unnecessary turns. We ate a huge lunch of Bratel'in'di'rein, which translates to: Meat in the Round. Nice, right? Did I mention that vegetarians can have a hard time of it over here? Meat, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and dumplings all sit in one pot in the center of the table and it's 'help yourself'. I was in heaven, picking out large slices of pork with a thick, delicious rind of fat. Mmmm... Afterwords, I was shanghaied into a 'little' bike ride, which turned into a spastic speedy jaunt through the Austrian countryside. Little equated to 35km at high speeds. We biked along the Inn, oh famous river of the area. An amazingly chill breeze blew off the water as we biked up a path towards a castle that NEVER got any closer. We were on that same track for 10 years before we hit that castle. I drank an apple juice with seltzer water (Apfelsaft g'spritz) the Austrians, beer. Lots of beer. Dehydration works backwards here.

Tomorrow my mom comes to visit! As you can imagine, my months without contact are about to end. I am terribly excited to show her around!

Now, if only I could remember how to sleep...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Movie and Matura

Yesterday, all the students and teachers watched a movie called "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (and fyi it's pYjamas here in England-town). It's a tragic story about a pair of boys who become victims of the Holocaust.

It may be ironic but I'm grateful that the Nazis are only appearing at the end of my time here. We discussed a movie called "Der Mühlviertel Hasenjagd", which roughly translates into "the Mühlviertel rabbit hunt". It tells the escape of prisoners, mainly Russians, from a concentration camp in Upper Austria. Local citizens were told that a group of criminals had escaped and that they were to be caught dead or alive. This lead to the violent and deadly "hunt" of the escapees about the Austrian countryside.

Austria has been in the news lately because of several events involving the dreaded National Socialists. A group of Austrian students visited Auschwitz, the most well-known and deadly extermination camp of WWII, to be kicked out a short time later for Nazi references or spreading Nazi propaganda. Then, a few weeks later, a group of young Neo-Nazis disrupted a commemorative ceremony by waving fake guns and bullying the participants. Come now, children, can't we play nice?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Warp Speed

I feel like I'm speeding forward into what could NOT be a new direction. Life is changing/going to change but is it all new? Does it have to be new? If it's 'old', maybe I'll be a little better at it this time. Practice makes perfect, right?

Questions, questions. This chill wind must be the culprit. Austria is amidst 'die drei Heiligen' or something similar (I'll check the name). What it roughly translates to is: the days in which the weather can turn freezing. Apparently it happened enough that the Austrians gave these few days in May a name. But it's cold, wet, and windy so I'm a firm believer.

The good news of the day: my money miraculously appeared in my Paypal account. After days of tense waiting, emails and phone calls, it's finally working. Now, if only I could somehow communicate with my credit card company with similar success.

Horizon looks good. If shadows are looming or pit falls are forming, they're doing so quietly. I'm looking forward to working the German out of my English. It's insidious, die Sprache.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I just had a beautiful culinary experience! One of my teachers recommended that I try this Turkish food called Bulgur. Actually, I'm not 100% sure that it IS Turkish. Shall I adhere to today's lesson and say Middle Eastern?

Fantastic! I think I just found my rice substitute! Shhhh!

Recipe: Fry up some Bulgur (looks like chopped brown rice) in butter
Cook in a vegetable/beef broth
Let sit...

I made it with vegetable broth and had some mixed vegetables on the side. My gosh, I'm keeping this one a secret.

p.s. Sorry that I'm the anti-cook. You can see how 'cultivated' my culinary skills are. I usually avoid recipes that involve more than three steps. Eating is a step. Opening the refrigerator door is also a step.

Matura - Time

The students and teachers alike are in an uproar all over Austria. It is that terrible time of the year, Matura time.

The Matura is the cumulative standard examination that all Austrian students have to take (and pass) in order to graduate. In Britain, they are called 'A-levels'. My students say this as if it would make it easier for me to understand. Right.

Like I said, it's a cumulative exam in over three subjects. I believe the student has the choice of which three but still. I hope you kept your notes from that freshman year biology course 'cause you're gonna need them!

That's this week's chaos, which results in anti-chaos for me. I am left to observe and wave flags to root for the students (figuratively). This Saturday, the English teachers have enlisted me for an entire day of test correction. Woo!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Soccer Boyz

The first thing that the kids do when they get to the dormitory after a weekend at home is crank up their stereos and blast techno or, more likely, house music. I guess that they don't have this privilege at home (it's rare to pass an Austrian house and here ANY music) so being here is a sorta release for them. I imagine they really enjoy being here. For an example of 'house' music, see this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWMw6yW325Q

Good thing my musical tastes are flexible enough to do the limbo with the head bent back between the knees.

Today I took a bike ride. Not the original plan. Being sick this past week, energy had become a precious commodity. I was supposed to have spent Mother's Day with a teacher, her husband, and four small children. But after spending an afternoon with the little rascals, I had serious doubts that my semi-comatose brain could cope with an entire weekend of pure energy. I opted to stay home...and woke up today 100% better. Amazing! In celebration, I rolled the bike out of the basement garage and hit the trails.

Ah, Austria is so beautiful at this time of year. It SMELLS wonderful - flowers, plants, fresh dirt, water. This time of year belies the true horror of summer: the heavy, humid air that chokes the lungs. These 'perfect' days are in short supply. But without the good, how could we ever recognize the bad? But they aren't really 'bad' days in summer. Just uncomfortable.

Anyway, back to the bike ride. My first goal was to bike until I saw cars that didn't have 'RI' on their license plates (RI stands for Ried im Innkreis, my town). Pretty soon, I diluted that goal to reaching maybe Braunau or another town that I am familiar with by name. Something that I could tell the teachers on Monday, you know?

Teacher: What did you do on the weekend?
Me: Went for a bike ride.
Teacher: Oh yeah? Where to?
Teacher: ...

I usually stop biking when I get bored. But today inspiration was with me and I went until I was tired. NOT wise. Not wise, at all. By the time my bike was homeward bound, I was beat. My knees were screaming, my butt was telling me "oh you're going to regret this", and my arms were sporting an unnaturally red tone. In fact, I have a rather nice farmer's tan. Mmm, this is classy right here. *flexes arm*

A small note on the Austrian countryside: the area in which I reside is called the Innviertel. 'Inn' denotes the river that dominates the 'viertel', or quarter. Besides an overly developed regional dialect and a concentration of right wing socialists, Canola or Rape is a popular crop. And it's beautiful. Gorgeous. Enchanting. Lambent? Yes, lambent. Canola, when it is in bloom, is a bright shade of gold. This gives the hills a glistening, glamorous cape of waving gold. Not something I'm used to seeing in my side of Pennsylvania.

At any rate, I made it back after three hours and 45km (about 30 miles). Not so bad. And now I'm getting ready to do dishes, which I don't want to do. But the hot water is back on so this should make things easier. In theory.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Every problem...

...is just a cleverly concealed opportunity. I learned this bit of information from a friend and it's very helpful, if a bit self-serving. I mean, I started thinking "how can I use this situation to my benefit" for about everything: from the crowd of Turkish kids outside the grocery store to the schnuffly, schnotty feelings in my head. It works, I guess, but I can't help but feel a little bit like a cad.

But I have a few big problems that I am desperately trying to make into opportunities.
1.) Paypal ate 200euros and I can't contact tech services. No...
2.) Summer employment?

Today is another day all about the little things. The sun was shining and it was pretty warm. I escaped to the rooftop for an hour to read a book and lie in the sun; did laundry and carted everything (clothes and drying rack) up to the rooftop to dry; and I went shopping for food. That was the grand expanse to the day's activities. I chatted with a few friends online, did a bit of research, had my return flight date changed (I now return on the evening of June 2nd!), and basically did a grand nothing. The excuse is a pernicious sickness that just won't leave me alone. Tscha, I've gone through almost a liter of OJ today. Elixir of life, I hope it does the trick.

From the rooftop, I could hear the announcer calling out the score from the city soccer stadium not too far away. I also thought about Mother's Day tomorrow. Happy Mother's Day, all you mothers! :)

I'm watching Fruits Basket, a Japanese Anime. Alright, I can hear your clucking all the way from here! The Japanese have a good knack for capturing cute morals. Example: Onigiri are rice balls that are usually filled with salmon roe or some such sea flavoring or just plain with an 'umeboshi' (pickled plum) stuck to the outside. Now, the main character in this anime ponders about why people become jealous of others. She uses the Onigiri as an example. If an Onigiri were to look down at itself, it would think it was just plain rice but, in truth, there is actually a great big Umeboshi stuck to its back. Go figure. We can only see other people's Umeboshi and not our own. Some people have trouble recognizing their own beautiful qualities. Ah, well. I thought it was cute.

Happy Mother's Day!