I’m not sure how, but somehow every day my life gets better.
Here are a list of reasons why:
1) Wednesday evening, when I tutor a colleague of mine, he and his lovely Hungarian girlfriend/partner/wife person fed me this incredible fried potato, bacon, and chive hash. And we had a nice conversation in German. Then I tutored for a couple hours and got paid! yay.
2) Thursday afternoon & Friday I worked a lot with my boss. I really like her, she reminds me of Gisela, my adviser in college. We bonded over several things. I taught the class “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” and about the game “Heads Up Seven Up”.
3) At Hofer I bought two bags of tortilla chips, a bottle of wine, and a bag of pretzels for 5 Euro.
4) Spent some quality time with Heather and Amber last night. Heather is having a Halloween party tomorrow. I have decided to dress up as Blacky, the evil cat from the house Amber lived in last year in Braunau. Should be fun tomorrow night!
5) I am also invited to another Halloween party that my friend Julia is hosting!
6) Elaine got us invites to an Erasmus (the European Union study abroad program) Halloween party last night at Palais Ausperg, that her friend helped organize. There was lots of booze and we got to hang in the VIP section. The music was great, and Elaine and I danced our asses off. In a palace. Then we stumbled to the opera, shared a piece of corn + ham pizza [don’t knock it til you’ve tried it], and grabbed the night bus home.
7) I discovered this green tea place (See previous post) today and it might be my new favorite hidden gem in Vienna.
8) The Döner Kebap dude down the block from us sells amazing kebap sandwiches that come with a free Pepsi for 2,50. It pays to live in the ghetto sometimes.
9) My aunt Elena sent me an Itunes gift card, and so I was able to download the most recent OK Go album AND this amazing song that’s number 1 in Austria right now - it’s from Vorarlberg and is sung in Dialect. I will do a post about it.
10) Got a Halloween card from Ruth! !
11) Thanks to Scott and Todd, I am going to the Opera tomorrow afternoon to see The Magic Flute!!! I am fricken jazzed about that. I even have a good seat!
12) They have started to decorate downtown with the Christmas decorations.
13) Yesterday afternoon Elaine and I went to the new Billa Corso grand opening in the first district. A grocery store has been on the site for forever, and it used to be a big deal back in the day. It’s got lots of chandeliers. And it’s across the street from Oberlaa!
Truffles in your Schinken, and other tales from Julius Meinl
On a quest to find canned pumpkin I found myself at Bobby’s British and American important store, where I’ve previously found canned pumpkin. This time I was lucky enough to speak with Bobby himself. Sadly, the news wasn’t good. No pumpkin this season. “It doesn’t look good”, “I don’t think I can get it in time”, and “the suppliers aren’t looking good”. I sort of felt like I was talking to my drug dealer.
This led me to Vienna’s preeminent grocery store. Imagine a store that would make Byerly’s look like Aldi, and you’d have a great idea of what Julius Meinl am Graben is like. It’s positively wonderful, delightful even for foodies. Where else can you find incredibly rare and exotic fruits and vegetables, a wide array of chocolates from all over the world, a preserved fruit section as big as a house, and jars of duck confit as big as your head imported from France.
It’s always a dangerous place to go. Especially if you’re hungry. I was careful, though, and when my hunt for canned pumpkin turned up empty, I selected a few things to have here at the apartment that seemed necessary. For example, they have what I like to call “Hausfrau Helper” in the produce section - various precut vegetable medleys perfect for one or two people that you can use to cook various things up quickly. And they’re really affordable. I bought the one that was meant for Thai stir-frys, as it included cabbage and peapods and some leafy greens and carrots and all sorts of other yummy veggies - for about 3 Euro. Once home, I threw some oil, soy sauce, diced garlic and diced fresh ginger in a pan, got it hot and sizzly, and threw in the veggies. Served it with basmati rice - and man, was that an incredibly easy and nutritious veggie-filled dinner. The best part was I that I don’t have 12 dollars worth of left over raw vegetables that I have to figure out how to use, which is a godsend.
I also found some ham studded with truffles. It’s pretty darn tasty.
So the latest and greatest development this side of the Danube is the opening of a Mexican grocery store in Neubau in the 7th district. It’s on Siebensterngasse, on the right side, right near the entrances to Spittelberg. Nathan and I stumbled upon it the other day and couldn’t believe our eyes. Suffice it to say, Alice and I went back yesterday and signed up to get our frequent customer cards. They sell real imported from Mexico refried beans, black beans, tortillas, salsas, canned peppers, hot sauces and jalapenos, frozen burritos, lots of tequillas, homemade tortillas, and a huge assortment of Mexican beers. They even have frozen halved avocados that you can buy and then defrost and make into guac fast. The only super random thing about this store is it’s wayyy too shwanky on the inside. It kind of looks like someone took a Prada boutique and turned it into a Mexican grocery store. It just…doesn’t fit, you know? I mean - Mexico is a shithole. That’s what we all love about it, right? Tonight Alice and I had refried beans in tortillas with lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. It was so amazing! YUM.
Check out my friend Kate’s blog about her recent experience in Sweden as a hair model. I am featured in the post, so it’s a little selfish of me to post the link, but it’s also just a great story to check out!
Mr. Electrician, Mrs. Landlady, & Apparently My Wife
There are moments in my life in which I ask myself just how did I get here.
One of those moments happened today. Elaine noticed that our bathroom light had gone out – and that the fan also wasn’t working. Calls were made, and before I knew it I was answering my door to welcome the cast of characters that are my aging, eternally confused landlady and the electrician, who introduced himself as “Mr Electrician”. I cannot tell you how much this amused me. At one point, he had to run down to his truck. When he buzzed the apartment, he said it was “Mr. Electrician”.
It turns out that conversing with an aging kook and an electrician, whose job title by definition somehow means that you can’t speak German clearly nor would even try to, is not something that you learn when you study German in college. Also, I am going to suggest to Macalester’s German department that there be a unit on vocabulary about electrical wiring. I was understanding about 65 percent of what was going on, and for that I am very thankful. I think the biggest problem was that in America I wouldn’t even care about what they were talking about. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not my problem. The landlady owns the building, and the light had gone out only because a wire had come lose. But when that was solved this electrician realized our fan runs every time the light is on – which apparently is a very, very bad thing that legally is not allowed because of some random law regarding carbon dioxide poisoning and 1 in 10,000 viennese dying a year and this and that and the other thing.
In our bathroom we have one of those old school water heater things above the washing machine. It’s a concept we don’t have in America because we have huge houses and a spare room in which we hide water heaters. Here, however, in tiny apartments in 100 year old buildings, the water heater is on top of the washing machine, mounted to the wall. Essentially, there is supposed to be a regulator in that thing to control the fan. But there isn’t. And that’s what this law is about. Because if both are working at the same time – i.e. the hot water heater is going at full bore and the fan – it sucks lots of oxygen out of the air. So every year some idiots die because they take 2 hour showers in their incredibly tiny European bathroom and there’s no oxygen left. Or at least, this is what Mr Electrician told us.
The thing that makes no sense is that the fan should really only work when we ARE TAKING A SHOWER, because otherwise it gets moist and eventually moldy and nasty. But this regulator in the water heater contraption (which will apparently be put in sometime next week or something) would keep the fan from working when the water heater is active. So, in other words, Elaine and I will have mold spores growing in our lungs instead of dying from a lack of oxygen.
The best part of the entire ordeal though is when “Mr. Electrician” told Elaine that he “already explained everything to your husband”. So apparently Elaine’s my wife now. Elaine didn’t bother correcting him, and our landlady witnessed this, and, well, now the poor ole thing is even more confused.
In other news, I also worked today and spent some time with Alice’s aunt and cousin who are in town. But frankly, the electrician story takes the cake so anything else I had previously planned to write about fails in comparison to what’s above.
During last weeks elections the xenophobic, fascist far right “Freedom” party (political parties are always so ironically named, aren’t they?) won a whopping 27% of the vote for mayor. The following day I discussed the results of the election with my college-aged students. Perhaps there is something to be said for the profession of teaching, but I found it strange that all of them were - or at least feigned - outrage at the results. I mean, 1 in 4 Viennese voted for HC Strache and his anti-foreigner, fascist policies - wouldn’t that statistically suggest that at least one of my students would be willing to defend the FPÖ and HC Strache?
Anyway, today was my first day working in the middle school next door to the PH. I have to say, given the immediate neighborhood surrounding the PH, the students were largely the children of the immigrants who HC Strache wants to oust from the country and whom are largely blamed for most of the problems in this country. The school system is incredibly broken here - but these students are not at fault for breaking it, but instead are victims of it. There are no special tracks for students who immigrated just recently to Austria. And for students who just immigrated to Austria, there is one paltry lesson a week extra for them to learn German. One Czech student moved to Austria two years ago and was thrown into a classroom to learn German with kids his own age. Given that he had no friends at school who spoke Czech, he was really forced into a tough corner - but managed to come incredibly far. His German is quite good. Many of the Turkish kids, however, have such a huge community in which they live that they don’t ever have to speak German outside of the classroom or in social situations in which they must deal with Austrians. My German is much better than several of the students with whom I worked today - and that’s just sad. It is a shame for these kids - especially when they must learn English from German.
But I have to say, being bilingual from birth - that is, if they truly were capable in both Turkish and German - would be such an incredible advantage to these kids! One girl - who, I have to admit - looks like one of my cousins with a mustache - helped me translate to the kids whose German was weak during a role play practice. It felt like the United Nations - me speaking in English or in German (though I am really not supposed to speak in German with them), and having this energetic and incredibly bright girl translate English or German into Turkish for me. When one of the girls protested that I insisted upon speaking mostly in English, I quickly looked at her and quipped something. Then she looked at me again and said, ‘what?’. I said, very fast, “well maybe if you payed attention in English you would’ve been able to understand that”. Then my little Turkish translator laughed really loud. I was surprised at how she was able to take my quip and process it fast, at the age of 11, from her third language into her second and into her first.
Clearly, this clever mustachioed version of my cousin is a force to be reckoned with. And if the other immigrant kids would just be given a special setting and forced into learning German at an even earlier age - then they all would quickly surpass their native Austrian fellow students at language acquisition. With that accomplished, they could begin to dispel the ridiculous notion that they don’t contribute to society here and finally reduce the support for fascist parties who, in 2010, have billboards during the election that talk of protecting “our Viennese blood”.
If you’ve ever wondered why you couldn’t perfect Asian food in the comfort of your own home, I may have the answer for you.
Today at the Naschmarkt Elaine and I popped into this Thai grocery store that I had previously noted sold small asparagus. Not only did we pick up the asparagus, we also got pea pods, cilantro, little red chilies, some soy sauce, a lime, and a couple other things. (Including Ramen, which is a cheap way to sustain me before I get paid!). Tonight I prepared a stir fry using the vegetables we found as well as turkey breast I had cut into small chunks. It turned out phenomenal - with shallots, garlic, soy sauce, and chopped ginger as the extra flavouring. I cooked the turkey first in oil, soy sauce, lime juice, half the ginger I had chopped up, and pepper, then removed it and cooked the vegetables with more soy sauce and the remaining ginger before adding the meat back to heat through. We served it with steamed basmati rice and some vegetable dumplings that we also picked up at the Thai grocery store (which were phenomenal I might add).
In short, let me just say that it was probably the most delicious stir fry I have ever had. I have never eaten something I made myself that tasted as if it were from an Asian restaurant. It was THAT good.
So after our success I looked at all the packaging for the cute little veggies we had gotten - the incredibly fresh and crunchy pea pods and the surprisingly fast-cooking and tender small asparagus - and realized that all of it had been imported from Thailand. Even the cilantro. Apparently the key to making really amazing Asian dishes is to actually buy produce from Asia. And thankfully all of it can be purchased just down the street from me at the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s permanent, incredibly wonderful year-round 6 days a week ode to all things edible and delicious. Yum.
Last night Elaine and I got invites to an ‘invite only’ party thrown by the Austrian People’s Party, or the Österreichische Volkspartei [die ÖVP]. It was a last party to thank supporters in the run up to Sunday’s mayoral election here in Vienna, with mayoral candidate Christine Marek. Nationally, the ÖVP is the second largest party represented in the parliament. Locally, however, they have a hard time even grabbing second place in socialist “red” Vienna, where the jovially alcoholic socialist mayor has been running Vienna with an absolute majority in city hall for practically forever (and will most likely continue to do so). In the provinces, especially out west, things are different. In Feldkirch, for example, the ÖVP regularly gets over 70 percent of the vote for parliamentary and local elections. The party last night was a riot! Special thanks to our American expat friend Nancy who got us in through a friend of hers who works for the party. It was unlike any American political event I have ever been to - there was a chic club in the MuseumsQuartier that had been rented out for the occasion, no annoying warm-up speeches by lesser-known candidates, unlimited free alcohol, and incredibly beautiful people dressed quite well. The Vice Chancellor of Austria & Finance Minister Joseph Pröll, who heads the party and is the Number 1 ÖVP in government, and of course Marek, both made apperances, and I got to briefly meet each and shake their hands. After they had made the rounds, the DJ got going and it pretty much turned into a club. It was a riot. Suffice it to say, Austrian Republicans are wayyyyy more fun (and attractive) than their American counterparts…
Check out the party’s website - and how blatantly they stole the entire design from the Obama campaign - here: www.oevp.at
I’ve just returned home from my first official day of work. I spent today’s classes with a colleague who is half Scottish, half Austrian, so we just speak in English with one another, which is certainly comforting but also sort of bizarre given that it’s an Austrian school. No complaints as far as work – I think I am really going to like it there this year, and so far all of the colleagues I have met are friendly and obliging. The students are mostly girls, about my age. As is typical in Austria, they can be sorted into two distinct groups – doe eyed and outwardly clueless or bitchy and irreverent. I tried to get them to laugh, hopefully they’ll come out of their shells over the course of the next few weeks. I’m only with them for 5 weeks total.
In other news, we attended Stürmische Tage, or Stormy Days, an awesome festival dedicated to celebrating Sturm and Wine along a street of wine cellars in Stammersdorf on the outskirts of the city. We had a really great time, and followed the event up with a trip to the 23rd district to see our apartment’s former resident’s ‘farewell concert’. His name is Vincent Bueno and he had some mild success in Austria two years ago when he won a talent competition reality tv show. His fame has waned since and ergo we now live in his apartment and he’s moving to the Philippines to pursue some sort of career there.
In other news, I have come down with a cold and am currently chilling out at home. I don’t work again until Thursday, which should be nice. Hopefully I can recoop in the meantime. A big shout out to our friend Kate, who visited us this weekend from Sweden. It was really nice to see her and spend time with her. She brought us Muesli and homemade french macaroons from Sweden!
Update: Have come down with cold, hardly have a voice - tomorrow at work will be interesting. Weekend was amazing, though. Really nice having Kate here visiting! Many pictures to come, promise.
So for the first time in a week I am having a chance to take it slow and write an appropriate blog post in order to get everyone up to speed.
The day before yesterday, which would be Wednesday, I went into school and met my new boss. She’s incredibly sweet, and very Viennese. I had been nervous, given the expectations I had been given last year, that the complex that I work at this year would be incredibly large and convoluted. And while it can be a little confusing, it’s all separated into 5 different “Houses”, so I’ll get the hang of it. Plus, I am mostly going to be working in the 4th House, which simplifies matters.
As she showed me around the complex, she introduced me to various people, and everyone promptly joked about how I spent last year in a part of the country where no one speaks German. Hardy-har-har, that didn’t get old real fast [sarcasm]. The college was creepily busy and eerily dead at the same time, the former on account of the online registration program’s malfunctioning, making students come into school to register for classes, and the latter due to a rather prominent professor’s funeral being held that afternoon. Most of the faculty was on their way there, including, apparently, the woman from accounting, or, “Die Dame von der Buchhaltung”. I ended up going back yesterday morning to show her, an older woman with a bouffant, my bank details so that I can get paid. Her last name is Wanko (pronounced VAUNK-OH), and when she called me later on to ask for my address I couldn’t help but laugh when she said, “Hallo, Herr Trrrrrollldahllll”, rolling the r and l in my name, “Hier spricht Wanko!”, or “Here speaks Wanko”. It’s the typical way you introduce yourself on the phone in German, but for some reason, given her name, I felt like I was being called by Bond, James Bond: WANKO, FRAU WANKO.
I also had coffee with my new boss in one of the two cafeterias on “campus”, so to speak. She told me that because my German is “so good” (her words, not mine), that I have to be careful of people taking advantage of my English skills to get free practice. I thought that this was cute. She told me she took some students to the States ten years ago, and how everything was so far by car to get anywhere. Ahh, typical America. Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and I like her. I am looking forward to working with her this year!
As a traveler, there are moments that you absolutely live for. When you’re orchestrating a vacation – especially one to a foreign country – you envision yourself, sidetracked, being somehow led down a path you didn’t plan on going, stumbling upon a unique and genuine cultural moment. The kind of thing that would inspire a magazine article, or have some profound effect on you. Then, undoubtedly, you arrive at your destination to find that you aren’t the only one trying to have a moment alone with Klimt’s The Kiss, or that you have to share the Parisian café you’ve dreamed your entire life of visiting with an obnoxious Nebraskan couple with two small children. There are lines, there is chaos, and sadly, there are other tourists. And when you travel a lot, you stop trying to force these genuine moments.
On Saturday, Elaine and I trekked half way across the world it seemed to a supposed Sturmfest, i.e. a festival with lots of vendors selling delicious Austrian snacks and celebrating the endangered beauty that is the yearly plethora of Sturm, a fermented young wine (that’s really more like grape juice). Because it expires quickly it is only available for a short period in the autumn and cannot be shipped very far. In an increasingly globalized world, Sturm survives as a geographical oddity. Sadly, this Sturmfest was a letdown. The poor weather had turned everyone, including the majority of the vendors, away. We trekked back into town and had late lunch / early dinner at the Salmbräu near the Belvedere palace. In an attempt to walk off the calories, we took a spin about the third district, filled with embassies, and were lured inside of a Russian orthodox church by a simultaneously angelic and haunting chorus of female voices.
Once inside, I think we were both a bit stunned. It was one of the most beautiful churches I had ever been inside. Though a behemoth from the exterior, the interior was surprisingly small – a little nave with no pews, filled with standing worshippers who were intently focused upon the service that was taking place, a service that seemed too big for such a small space. Gold was everywhere, but somehow it was tasteful. (Which is tough to do with gold). A man wrapped in an elaborate red and gold coat seemed to be presiding over everything, flanked by two younger men in similar, though less ornate, outfits. I looked up and noticed that the ceiling, rather than dark or faded, was painted with vibrantly colored saints. It was an eye-opening experience in a city that I’ve spent so much time in, a small nugget of Russia tucked away in the Austrian capital. And because of its authenticity it was, somehow, a hundred times more beautiful than the ornate buildings downtown that I have seen four hundred times. Elaine and I just happened to stumble upon the right thing at the right time, and there we stood, on the edge of the entrance way in order to not disturb, Elaine ready at any moment to turn her scarf into a headscarf if asked to, and a choir of voices coming from somewhere else in the church, singing away. Later that evening, heading across town to visit a couple friends of mine, I noticed four Russians on the subway, and to be perfectly honest, I thought of them a little bit differently than I had hereto previously.