Tuesday, April 27, 2004

You needed an election for that?

As most of you probably don't know, the Austrians had presidential elections on Sunday. The SPÖ candidate, Heinz Fischer, won by three and a half points.

This was totally the most pointless election I've ever seen in my life.

The Austrian president doesn't actually do anything. It's just a ceremonial position. He's actually sort of like the Queen of England—he can supposedly influence policy, but he never really does. Still, there was a four-month long campaign for the office, complete with arguments about who was giving away cookies illegally and who misused a Pink concert to promote herself (Fischer and Ferrero-Waldner, respectively). The Austrians seem to feel that it's necessary to have a special election just for this position, and then they get all wound up when the voter turnout is "only" 70,6%.

Sometimes I don't understand this country.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Wild weekend

This weekend was fun good times, mostly because I was out and about randomly. Okay, that's a lie. This weekend was good times because the kids had a golf tournament and the internat was empty. Whatever.

Anyway, my Betreuungslehererin called me at 11:15 on Saturday and said, "I come pick you up in 20 minutes." I said, "Uh. Okay." So she did. We did some bumming around Güssing, but the highlight of the day was the local soccer game.

If you know me at all, you know I like sports but think soccer is BOR-ing. Not golf-level boring, but definitely snooze-inducing. This was not a problem Saturday, because the ref was completely malcompetent. Halfway through the first half, one of our players was unjustly red-carded and we had to play the rest of the game at a disadvantage. And then, with the score tied 4-3 and the other team making increasingly more aggressive shots on goal, the ref made them play SIX extra minutes for no apparent reason. He's lucky the other team didn't score, or he would have seen hooliganism in action.

Anyway, soccer of course leads to drinking, and we congregated at the local Gasthaus after the game for wine and analysis of referee stupidity.

Last night I went to the welcome barbeque for the Croatian exchange students. I got a few nice strokes to my ego from people commenting on how much my German has improved. I also got the weirdest door prize/souvenir ever: it's a book with a photo from every house in Neuberg (a small village near Stegersbach) in it. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Laugh at it, mostly.

Then I came home, prepared a lesson on Canada (please note, 3HAS class: moose and elk are not the same thing), and went to bed. Fantastic.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Saint or paraiah, hard to tell

Comedian Eddie Izzard has a line about Adolf Hitler that I just love: "He was a vegetarian and a painter, so he must have been going, 'I can't get the fuckin' trees...damn, I will kill everyone in the world!"

Austrians do not think this line is funny.

I can't really figure out what the attitude toward Hitler is, actually. Jokes, in any form, are right out. I get called "the Grammar Nazi" a lot at home, but that would be a serious insult here. I have no idea how they handled the Soup Nazi when Seinfeld was on.

So Hitler is not funny. He is serious. Very serious.

But that doesn't mean that he's really hated.

I think the Austrians are aware they're supposed to hate Hitler. He gets compared to Bush a lot, so there must be some hatred. Sometimes, though, it's Bush that comes out the worse in that little race. (Which brings to mind a Margaret Cho quote: "George W. Bush is not Hitler. But he could be if he fucking applied himself.")

Anyway, I think there's actually a good bit of ashamed admiration floating under the ostensible wrath and disgust for Hitler. Not that they want him to return, or even to admit that he was, in fact, born in Austria, but a sort of, look-our-boy-is-the-most-hated-man-in-history, it's-not-having-the-empire-back-but-it's-something attitude.

In the end, I think that's the reason there's so much anti-Bush/anti-America sentiment here. Austria and Germany have been held up for so long as the examples of how government can go terribly wrong that they're defensive, even of Hitler. They're tired of being the whipping boys, so they're all too happy to point fingers at the U.S.

I have to admit, this attitude annoys me. I feel like the best thing for them to do would be to say, "Look, clearly we're not the world experts on good government, because...yo. But, hey, we're trying to do better and you're hurting our feelings," instead of this constant barrage of "Americans are stupid and so are you."

Monday, April 19, 2004

Live in the now

I updated my links section, so if you want to waste a little time at work (and who doesn't), try to figure out what's new and what's gone. I'll give you a prize if you're able to tell me.
I'm going to kill you, Charles Dickens

I swear, if he weren't already dead...

I took the practice test for the GRE Literature this weekend. My results were sort of disappointing (although better than the person who owned the book before me). I mean, I'm not going to be stuck going to BFE U., but I'm not getting into Cornell, either.

Here is the problem that I have: I'm actually a very poorly read English major. (I think I've posted about this before, but I'm too lazy to go look for it.) I read a lot, but I read a lot of crap. I read children's books and random stuff in German and romance novels and whatever's on the NY Times Bestseller List. I mean, reading Vernon God Little and The Lovely Bones isn't bad for me, but it isn't helping me get into grad school, either.

A list of things I'm ashamed to admit I've never read:
  • The Odyssey and The Illiad I was supposed to read them both at various points in my educational career and just never did. I bought The Odyssey a few months ago, determined to read it. It's gathering dust on my shelf.

  • Anything by Henry James.

  • Or Edith Wharton.

  • Or really any American author who wrote before 1960. That includes Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald (but not Steinbeck).

  • Tess of the D'Ubervilles. This wouldn't be a particular tragedy except it keeps popping up at odd moments in my life and I have to be all, "Uh, yeah. Never got around to it."

  • Joyce's Ulysses. I tried when I was in Dr. Doody's Engl. 364, but after about 100 pages I was so annoyed by frickin' Bloom that I put it down. I got an A on the paper about it that I faked my way through, though.

  • Othello. Obvious.

  • I'm sure there are other things that will occur to me after I post this, because every time I see a list of great books I have to cringe and admit that I haven't read nearly as many as I should have.

    Friday, April 16, 2004

    A rant

    What is your obsession with me wearing socks? Stop oppressing me. Look, it's 65 degrees outside; I don't think it's unreasonable to wear flip-flops to school. I am not going to get another cold. Yes, I realize that I was sick over Easter, but that's not because my toes fell below an acceptable average temperature. No, that was because I drank out of my mother's orange 7-Up, despite knowing that she was ill. I was thirsty, leave me alone. Flip-flops are not going to kill me.

    And on that note, going outside with wet hair has never killed anybody who lives below the Arctic Circle. I went outside with wet hair AT NIGHT when it was BELOW FREEZING this winter, and I never got sick or had all my hair break off at the root. And even if I had, it would have been sort of a blessing in disguise, because have you seen my hair?

    As much as I enjoy hearing you say, "If I were your mother, I wouldn't let you go outside like that," please note: 1) you are not my mother, and 2) my mother gave up on controlling my footware and hairstyle a long time ago. So settle down.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    Things that made me laugh this morning

    —My teacher Heinz, on the major problem with Austria: "We don't have peanuts here."

    And evidently they can't import them, either.

    —Me, on why my students hate America: "It sounds like sour grapes to me."

    This made me laugh largely because my students had NO. IDEA. what the hell I was talking about. And also because I was right.

    Sunday, April 11, 2004

    Alien Jazz Hands

    Quick question: Does anybody think Bruce Willis looks bizzarely old in ads for The Whole Ten Yards? He's only 49, but I'm afraid the alien masquerading as his loose neck skin is going to jump out of the poster and eat my face.
    Women of a certain age...

    Should really just give up on the blue hair dye, I think.

    I went to Mass this morning, and while it was a lovely (if monotone) service, I was highly distracted by the hair of the woman in front of me. This woman was approximately 60 years old and accompanied by two teenage boys that I took to be her grandsons. She had the typical old-lady haircut: short and curly. However, it was not the typical old-lady color. Underneath, at the nape of her neck and near her skull, it was a steel grey. Fine. But then there was a layer of platinum, a little dulled by time, I assume.

    And then there were the random swipes of turquoise, punk-rock blue over that. I was mesmerized.

    And this is not atypical of women in Austria. Evidently it's some sort of law that when you reach 50, you have to dye your hair some sort of outrageous, clearly unnatural color. The most popular choice seems to be maroon. I can't tell you how many 70-year-old women with maroon hair I've seen in the past week alone. Nobody's hair is maroon! This is not a hair color that occurs in nature! At least with black you have a chance of convincing the very young or the very naive. With maroon, you're pretty much wearing your post-midlife crisis on your sleeve. Er, head.

    The whole thing became a kind of running joke when my family was here. We kept encouraging my mother?who is very cool, but possible the most conservative woman on the planet?to get flaming purple hair. Every woman that we saw with appropriately horrific hair was suggested as inspiration.

    I have to go with platinum and turqouise. It's just that classy.

    Saturday, April 10, 2004

    More running and swearing than I've done in the past year

    So my parents and youngest sister were here last week, which is why the blogging has been dodgy. Having your family come visit you is way less stress than anybody else, because they're used to seeing you screw stuff up. And I, of course, managed to screw things up royally Sunday night.

    Saturday morning, as we were walking past the Secession, I turned to my parents and said, "I'm going to check the bus schedule quick. There's only one bus running back to Stegersbach on Sunday night, and we can't miss it." I think you can see where this is going, right?

    So I checked the schedule and confirmed that the bus left at 7:15 p.m., as I thought. We went about our business.

    Sunday night rolls around, we've eaten at the Chinese buffet as my sister demanded, and checked our email on the way back to the hostel to pick up our bags. We leave the hostel at 6:45, giving us half an hour to get to the bus stop, which is, after all, only five subway stops from where we were staying.

    Of course, we ended up having to wait for trains both at Westbahnhof and at Volkstheatre where we transfered, and got to Karlsplatz (the closest station to the Secession) with five minutes to spare. We probably could have made it if I had followed the signs to the Secession instead of the signs to the interregional trains, but I didn't. I got completely turned around. Eventually I said (internally, because my mom doesn't let me swear), "Fuck it, gonna have to run." So I dashed upstairs, got oriented above ground, and started running in the direction of the bus, overnight bag bumping against my side all the way. I crossed against two lights, which is a deadly dangerous thing to do in Vienna, and, miracle of miracles, caught the bus.

    My parents and sister hadn't been able to keep up with me as their bags were significantly heavier and they had no clue where I was going. So, one foot in the door of the bus, I asked the driver if he was going to Stegersbach.

    "Yes, right now. Let's go, lady."
    "My parents and sister are right behind me. They're coming."
    "I don't care. It's 7:15. I have to go."
    "Please!" I was practically crying by this point. "They'll be here in just a second."
    "It's 7:16! I have a schedule! I don't care!" And with that he started moving the bus forward, regardless of the fact that my foot was still on the first step.
    "Fine. Thank you," I sa?d, fighting to keep a sarcastic edge out of my voice. "We'll try to catch up with you at Matzleinsdorferplatz." Keep in mind that I'm insanely wound up and German is not my first language, so the fact that I could spit out "Matzleinsdorferplatz" is fairly impressive.

    I dashed down the street looking for a taxi. A woman who had been standing on the bus before I got there, arguing with the driver, followed me, but I ignored her. I found a taxi, explained the situation in rapid and probably semi-incoherent German, and climbed in. The woman tried to climb in with me, asking if she could ride on someone's lap or something, just to get to Matzleinsdorferplatz. She was stubborn. "Please, just on your lap. I need to get on that bus, too."

    I said, "Look, I'm sorry, there won't be room."
    "Please, try to understand."
    I was getting impatient. I dug in my wallet for five Euros and gave it to here. "Take another taxi," I said, and climbed in, shutting the door behind me.

    Of course, by the time we waited through three red lights and found my parents, there was no way the taxi driver could catch the bus. We piled out at Matzleinsdorferplatz (thank goodness that's the last time I have to type that) and who should be standing there but the woman from the bus.

    "He's gone," she said.
    "I figured," I replied, "but we had to try."
    "I didn't have enough money to get on the bus. I was short by three Euros," she commented.
    "Ugh. Well, he was an asshole, anyway."
    "Yeah, he was, and you handled the situation like an angel," she said.
    "Thanks. It's good to hear it wasn't just me."
    She kissed my cheeks and walked away.

    So after my father listened to me rant about the bus driver using words my mother clearly does not approve of, we decided that we would go to S?dbahnhof, the southern train station, and see if we could either catch a train (another long shot, I figured) or figure out how to rent a car in a country where nothing is open on Sunday.

    When we got to the train station (which I did by riding "black"?my 72-hour subway ticket had expired forty minutes earlier), I got a little jolt of hope when looking at the giant schedule board of trains: there was one leaving for Oberwart at 20:32. Fantastic. That would get us within 20 kilometres of Stegersbach?close enough to take a taxi.

    I walked up to the ticket counter, waited for the man in front of us to finish. Then I had to throw a nasty look at the guy who cut in front of us in line. I didn't say anything, though, because he had three kids with him. Anyway, I finally made it to the window, and said, "Four tickets to Oberwart, please."

    "What train?"
    "The 20:32."
    "I suggest you look a little closer," the man?Helmut, according to his name plaque?said.
    "Oh, that's arrivals. Rats. Is there anything going to Oberwart tonight?"
    "Just hang on, I have to look. For God's sake."
    "Oh, I'm sorry, I understand."
    "I know you understand, but I don't understand you." Helmut was starting to get on my nerves, and it was apparently mutual. "There's a train in three minutes."
    "Okay, four adults. Which track?"
    "For God's sake! I have to look!"
    "Sorry," I said again. I mean, is it unreasonable to assume that information is displayed on the same screen?
    Helmut printed the tickets. My father was going to pay with his credit card, but I preempted him with a 50-Euro bill, figuring that would be faster. This prompted another "For God's sake!" from Helmut.
    "Track sixteen," he said, after he finished shaking his clasped hands at me.
    "Thanks," I said dryly, and grabbing the tickets, I turned to my parents and said, "Run."

    We caught the train and even managed not to screw up our transfer in Wiener Neudorf, but only because the conductor caught us going up the stairs in the direction of the wrong track and pointed us to the right one. In my defense, he had orignally told us the train was leaving from track 1 when it was actually leaving from track 2.

    Arrival time in Oberwart: 9:45 or thereabouts, just as the station was shutting down. Next task: find a taxi. There were, of course, no phone books in the phone booths at the station, so I told my parents I would walk down to the post office, which was in sight of the station. There are phone books and phones in the lobby, and I thought it might be open since it's separate from the main post office.

    No such luck.

    I had to walk to a bar three blocks away and ask a less-than-thrilled-looking bartender for the number of a local taxi. She gave it to me, and I called. The driver told me I would have to wait ten minutes before he could come get us. I wanted to laugh. "That's absolutely not a problem," I said. I saved my giggles until after he'd hung up.

    From that point on, things went mostly fine: the taxi arrived, had room for all of us and our luggage, and didn't mind going to Stegersbach and then back. The ride cost us ?30, making the total cost of the fiasco ?90, only about ?20 more than catching the bus on time would have, plus we didn't lose the money from the hotel we'd reserved in Stegersbach.

    Of course, I was completely traumatized by the entire experience, even more so when we ran into the asshole bus driver at a Heuriger the next day. He didn't recognize me, but I called him many dirty names under my breath.

    Saturday, April 03, 2004

    Strange things that happened today

    1. My father bought olives with garlic stuffed in them, and he liked them. Ew.

    2. My sister had fake makeup applied by a hyperactive two-year-old girl who only spoke Slovakian.

    3. I resisted the temptation to eat ice cream for the second day in a row.

    4. We ate dinner out of a mini-wheelbarrow. And it was good.

    5. My knees did not explode, despite the literally MILES and MILES we walked today.

    6. A man tried to sell me a spoon with a windmill on top.

    7. A little old woman at the train station talked to me for fifteen minutes, including extensive commentary on how young my mom looks despite the fact that she's had four children.

    Friday, April 02, 2004

    Live from Vienna, home of hurty knees

    Quick update from Vienna. My parents and sister got in last night, which means we have been playing the "let's be touristy Americans" game all day. This game involves my father wearing sandals and my sister taking pictures of buses and ducks and things like that.

    However, I will say that the Vienna Zoo is good times, because we saw at least three different animals doing...bathroom things, including a full-grown elephant. Also the polar bears. So there was that, and a baby lemur, and really, can you ask for more?

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