Tuesday, March 27, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, Slovakia and Sachertorte

Alright, so I must be on a roll tonight (or in serious procrastination mode)... to any extent, I got done writing the last post and realized I hadn't mentioned St. Patrick's Day at the Prater, our day trip to Bratislava or the Sachertorte baking extravaganza!
So, real quick--here's an addendum to my pervious post.
St. Patrick's Day at the Prater: one of the great things about Europe, friends, is that you are allowed to consume alcohol in public. St. Patrick's Day happened to be the first Saturday of a string of gorgeous sunny springtime days here in Vienna, so our group decided to take snacks, books, wine and blankets to the Prater and have a picnic in the sunshine. It was a lovely afternoon and we all enjoyed just laying around, reading, chatting, eating, drinking and, in one case, smoking a pipe. :) I returned home feeling quite bohemian and European...and a bit sunburnt. :) tee hee

Bratislava: A recent NY Times article cited the city as a hidden getaway destination from Vienna. Well, it might be hidden to Americans (we might not consider Slovakia as a top travel destination in Europe), but based on the amount of German I heard in Bratislava on Saturday when we were there, its not as 'hidden' to the Austrians! Nevertheless, its true: its a gem of a city, only 1 hour away from Vienna. For a roundtrip ticket of only 15 Euros (incl. transportation in Brastilava once you're there), its an incredibly cheap day trip. So on another beautiful sunny day, my friend Jeff and I hopped a train and traveled across the border to Slovakia. Since Jeff had been there before, we easily found our way into the city and spent the majority of the day wandering through it. We climbed to the top of the Michael's gate, hiked up to the castle, had lunch in the pedestrian zone, shopped a bit, ate ice cream and people watched by the opera and ended the trip with dinner. I found Bratislava to be really charming--it has cute, winding cobblestone roads and pretty city squares. At the same time, though, you can see traces from the Soviet era in architecture, which makes it even more interesting. The city isn't all that big, so a day trip was plenty of time to get to see a good portion of it.
The only downside to the whole day was that we forgot to check the departure times for evening trains and ended up spending 1.5 hours waiting at the train station--but during that time Jeff helped me discover the addiction of "Angry Birds" which I (gasp!) had never played before. :)

Sachertorte Baking Extravaganza: For those of you who know me, I do not bake. I cook. But I have always admired friends (and my mother!) who can bake really well. So when my friend Katie invited Ann and me to have a baking party at her apartment on Sunday, I was excited to get in on the fun and hopefully learn some useful pointers on how to bake. I had quite a steep learning curve because we decided to start by baking Sachertorte!! Its a very labor intensive process, and we were all happy that there were three of us on the job so that we could all pitch in at various stages (I think the original Torte has something like 37 steps to it! The recipe is, of course, secret, but the one we used comes from an original Sacher baking book, so its as close as we could get to the original). I am not sure if I could ever make this on my own, but it seemed to have turned out quite well! One thing I was not aware of is that the Marillenmarmelade is spread all over the outside of the cake, beneath the icing. Also, the icing was probably the trickiest part of the whole procedure--it has to be just the right consistency and temperature to get its signature glossy sheen. Aside from the Sachertorte, we also made chocolate chunk cookies and hot cross buns, which, in comparison to the Torte, were much easier (however, Katie and I both confessed our aversion to using yeast recipes... luckily Ann showed us that its not that scary to use!). All in all it was a great day! Maybe I will be brave enough to keep baking once I return to the States....???

Springtime Visitors

I was just looking at my last post--about three weeks ago--and I realized that I can check some things off my Vienna Bucket list, thanks to Family A.'s visit! :)
Rewind two weeks ago. One of my two best friends from college, Sue, came to visit me during her Spring Break (Sue is now Prof. A at a liberal arts college in PA)! (Blayne, we missed you!!!!) Sue's parents, who had never been to Europe before, had finally yielded to our persuasion a few months back and decided to come along at the same time as Sue's visit. It was so much fun to have them
here and I ended up enjoying a mini-vacation here in Vienna myself, thanks to their generosity!!! I realized that the best thing about having visitors, aside from seeing dear friends, is that I got to see 'my' city, 'my' temporary home, with fresh eyes. And it finally gave me a chance to see parts of it that I hadn't yet! Within a week, we managed to go to a Heurigen, visit Schönbrunn, tour the gallery at the Belvedere, go to Cafe Sacher and Cafe Central, see an opera at the Volksoper, visit St. Stephen's cathedral, pay our respects to the Habsburgs at the Kapuzinergruft and eat at the Naschmarkt.
Anyone who has traveled probably knows that there are all kinds of travelers: there are those who are on schedule, meticulously planning to assure they get to see everything they can, there are those who fly by the seat of their pants and are totally spontaneous, there are those who are adventurers and risk-takers, there are the history buffs, the art fanatics, the foodies....
Well, this past week, Sue and I made a discovery that bodes well for our future travels plans: we are both foodies. :) And we like to wander. So, Sue and I took two days off of sight-seeing to wander through the 7th and 8th districts, where we had a long relaxing lunch at Cafe Strozzi in the sunshine and did some shopping. Meanwhile, her parents toured the Military History Museum, went to Cafe Demel and had Schnitzel at Figlmüllers. Finally, on our last night, Sue picked out this fantastic little restaurant in the 7th district called Cafe Phönixhof. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good restaurant a bit off the beaten path but with a great selection of typical Austrian cuisine.
Also, speaking of food, I had my first Heurigen experience. Heurigen are wine
taverns--not exactly restaurants--that are generally only open about 3 weeks per season (an open Heurigen has a small circle of twigs and greener hanging over its door, see picture to the right). They serve only their own wines, and the food they serve is limited, but generally consist of local products. We joined up with some Fulbright friends and headed to Perchtoldsdorf, where several Heurigen are located. All of us really enjoyed the wines and the food was very good as well--and inexpensive! Schnitzel only cost 6 Euros! I look forward to going to more in the spring.

Sue and her parents were not the only visitors in town lately: the Colgate Study Group was here in Vienna for a week and I was able to attend two performances with the group, which gave me an opportunity to visit with one of my future colleagues and to meet some of the students who may end up in one of my classes next year!
So last Wednesday night we saw the play "Amadeus" at the Theater in der Josefstadt. This was particularly neat to me because it is the play that inspired the 1984 film by the same name. When I was a little girl, I would wake up on Saturday mornings and watch this movie--it was one of my favorites! I was awestruck by the music and all the costumes (though it occurs to me now that that sounds a bit odd--I clearly did not understand the latter part of the film when Mozart develops syphilis and becomes haunted by the ghost of his father!!!). At one point during the play, I couldn't help think its bizarre that I am now here in Vienna, some 20 years later, watching the piece in the same city in which Mozart worked and died. But back to the play--it was a great performance--particularly by the actor playing Salieri. And, unlike most pieces at the Josefstadt, it was surprisingly tame in terms of nudity and explicitness. :)
The next day we attended Wagner's Tannhäuser--I remember I had seen this staged in Weimar when I was studying abroad some ten years ago. At the time, I remember thinking this was such a dark, dismal and boring (!) piece, but this time around was completely different. I found the music very dramatic and moving--but I must say that the staging was not exactly what I expected. When I later spoke with my landlady and landlord, who are both opera buffs, they informed me it was "far from the original". To any extent, I am happy to have had a second-go at Wagner and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I really know nothing when it comes to music, but I am starting to see how people can really get into opera. I love how it is so much a part of the culture here.
Speaking of cultural events--I am also headed to see "Faust" at the Burgtheater tomorrow evening, which I am very excited about.

Lastly, a word about springtime in Vienna. Its glorious!!! The cafe's are opening their doors, the trees are bursting into bright green buds and white blossoms, and the chairs that line the paths in the Burggarten have finally be set up again. Parks are filling up, the Museumsquartier is a-buzz and there are joggers, bikers and pedestrians everywhere! The city really comes alive in the spring--I had heard that its gorgeous during this season and it is really true.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vienna Bucket List

It just hit me--its now March, meaning there are only 4 months of the Fulbright Fellowship left and half my time in Vienna is officially over!! Where did all the time go?!
Since time is flying, I have decided I need to start DOING more things here in Vienna. Yes, of course my utmost priority is to work on the dissertation, but its torture to be here in this amazing city and feel confined and restricted to the library. So, I have been making more of an effort to get out and here's a quick recap of my last week. Despite all the stress--I ended up having a lot of fun and was able to find a counterbalance to all the work with my dissertation and job search.

On Sunday night, I joined Molly, Georg and Ann to attend the Oscar Event at the Gartenbaukino. For the past several years, the movie theater--which is known for showing lots of 'art house' films--has been broadcasting the Oscars live from L.A. Given the time difference, this means that the red carpet coverage doesn't even begin until sometime after midnight and the whole event goes until ca. 6:00 am. Being the film lover that I am, I jumped at the chance, and was able to
enjoy some of the perks that went along with the night. For example, if you chose to dress up in 'evening attire' you get a glass of free champagne (an offer we couldn't pass up--see left). And if you attended the film directly before the broadcast began (which, in our case, was "My Week With Marilyn"), then you are guaranteed a seat for the Oscar show. It was incredible to see how many people came out for the event! The theater was jam-packed with mostly twenty-somethings ready to stay up all night to see who would take home the shiny, gold statues. At around 3 am, they began passing out breakfast snacks--complete with a ham and cheese sandwich, apple and croissant! Free coffee was available for those who wanted it... but I opted out, knowing that I would eventually be going home and getting some shut-eye. At around 3:30 am I threw in the towel and took a cab home, but my friends Molly and Georg stayed until the very end! Props to them!!
On Wednesday--Leap day!--Ann and I decided to go to the "Wiener Eistraum" before it ended this weekend. The "Eistraum" (literally translated, Ice-Dream) is a winter wonderland set up in front of the Vienna town hall. There are two rather large ice-rinks and then a bunch of winding and twisted paths through the park located in front of the town hall.
When you skate on the paths, it feels like you are skating through the woods--so cool. The entire thing is lit up at night and there were tons of people still skating when we showed up at 9:30 to catch the "last minute deal" which only cost us 5 Euros, rentals included. The warmer temperatures during the day had caused the ice to melt some... but it was still really neat to skate a few rounds before they shut down for the night.

Finally, on Thursday, Katie, Ben, Jeff and I went to the opera to see "Carmen." We stood in line for a few hours to get standing section tickets, and managed to get in one of the front rows. The set design was incredible, as was the performance. But unfortunately, the State Opera does not adhere to "maximum capacity" laws--and jam-packed our standing section so full that people were blocking the entire staircase. It was so full, hot and stuffy that, during the third act (and after about 2.5 hours of standing), my friend Katie actually passed out! It caused for a bit of panic and shock for all of us involved, but luckily she was fine!!! We managed to get her through the masses of people crowding our section and took her to the foyer. There was a doctor 'on call' at the opera, who came rushing along with his little black suitcase, which he proceeded to open, pull out some mysterious drops, and add them to a glass of water that he promptly gave to Katie, instructing her to drink up. All the while, the "Toreador" song was playing in the background! It was very bizarre, especially now, looking back--but as I said, the main thing is that she is ok!! :)

I've also finally made it to the "Theater in der Josefstadt", where I saw a modern take on Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (if anyone has seen "Eyes Wide Shut"--the film is based off this piece). During one of the scenes of the performance, however, one character (a prostitute nonetheless) begins undressing... at that very moment, I got this terrible cough attack, which I was trying my hardest to suppress (I didn't want to be subjected to tsk-ing and annoyed glares of the people I was sharing the box seats with)... but the harder I tried NOT to cough, the worse the tickle got... and all the while, the woman continues to undress on stage. Yep, folks, she got butt-@$$ naked. That's theater in Europe for you. I like to think I am rather well-seasoned and pretty liberal when it comes to things like that... but I have to admit, I was a bit shocked to see a fully naked woman standing on stage. It didn't seem to phase anyone else and when I later told some friends about that, one answered, "Yes, that's the Theater in der Josefstadt for you..." They are playing "Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald" this month, which I would like to go see--and perhaps this time I will be a bit better prepared! :)

So, that's the week in a recap--I have been toying with the idea of making a "Vienna Bucket List" to make sure I do everything I want to do. Luckily I will have lots of visitors this spring, so hopefully we can do some of these things together. :)

Here's a start:
1) Visit Schönbrunn (!? crazy, I know, I just haven't made it out there yet...I had been there about 10 years ago, but its definitely time to return)
2) Schloß Belvedere
3) The Klimt exhibit at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
4) Have brunch at the Naschmarkt
5) Eat/Drink at a Heurigen
6) Go to the Volkstheater and the Volksoper
7) See the Lipizzaner horses perform at the Spanische Hofreitschule
8) Access Ingeborg Bachmann's manuscripts at the Nationalbibliothek
9) Take a walk around the Donauinsel
10) Go to the Prater when the rides are actually open...

Any further suggestions?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jetlag, be gone!

I committed the cardinal sin of transatlantic travel. Yep, that's right, I went straight to bed. Bad idea, I know. But after covering nearly 14,000 miles by plane and car during a mere 3 weeks, I was ready to slow down. And slow down I have...
Let me explain. After returning home for a lovely Christmas in WV, my mom and I flew to Destin, Florida, to join the Gallgher clan (there's no other way to explain this family!), aka Greg's
extended family on his mother's side, for Christmas. We were there for a glorious,fun-filled 5 days that included go-karti
ng, sandcastle building, outlet shopping, and yes, even a game of ta
g football (I was just told to tackle people... but I did actually throw the ball once! And someone--on my team--actually caught it! I think I even surprised myself on thatone...). As the year drew to an end, we scattered our separate ways again, dusting off the sand from our shoes and bundling our sun-kissed skin up with warm cozy sweaters.
After a short stop-over in WV again for New Year's (Brooke and Shawn, it was a great time!) and New Year's Day in Pittsburgh (couldn't be so close without seeing Blayne and Sue!), I headed to DC to catch a plane to Seattle for the Modern Language Association annual convention. Why, you might ask, was I traveling across the entire country for a conference?! Why not back to Vienna? There's a good reason: I had a job interview. This is just the first step of many, so we will see where it takes me.
During the whirlwind of panel hopping, networking and interviewing, I managed to explore
Seattle a little and really liked what I found. It crossed my mind that, like Vienna, Seattle has excellent coffee (and I'm not just talkin' Starbucks, folks) and an awesome market, Pike Place Market. We also discovered a fantastic wine bar--but unfortunately
didn't get a chance to get out of the middle of downtown to explore other scenes. All in all it was a great trip! To top it off, on the last day, the clouds lifted and the snow-capped mountains were in plain sight! Breath-taking!
Next stop: back to DC for a night, then it was time to get packed back up for my last final plane ride. Have you been counting?! Yes, this was my sixth flight...I started the year off with a rather large carbon footprint...Mother Nature, I apologize.
Anyway, despite the fact that Air Canada provided a lovely transatlantic flight (really, I highly recommend!), I was so ready to be done with plastic baggies that hold 3 oz. bottles, security checks, airplane food, switching suitcases, weighing bags, packing and unpacking. I drank about all the Emergen-C my body could handle (believe me, you reach the point when you know you can't handle any more...) and my earplugs became my prize-posession by the end of the trip. I had lovely beds to sleep in--all provided by caring friends, family and the Crown Royal of Seattle--and I slept surprisingly well...but I was so, so, so relieved to be back in 'my' bed in Vienna... that the second I saw it, I crashed.
I proceeded to sleep from 3:30 pm until 3:30 am. Out. Like a light. Then I was awake for 3 hours. Then I slept from 6 am until noon.

Ok, I thought, this is my body reclaiming its much needed R&R. I can accept that. And I have to admit, it felt amazing to sleep.

The next night I fell asleep at 2 am and--get this--slept til 1 pm the following day!!! Not ok.

So last night I was out by 9:30 pm (how this happened after only being awake for 8 hours is beyond me...), but then I woke up (surprise, surprise) by 1:30 am and was awake until the wee hours of the morning. I had my alarm set for 9 am... by 10:30 am, I managed to crawl out of bed.
Confused? Yeah, so is my body apparently. Sigh.
Its now a little past midnight. Let's hope the 90 mins. of hot yoga kicked my ass enough earlier this evening so that I can sleep through the entire night tonight.

If not, I should just plan to go to the the MA 35 at 9 am on Monday morning--that seemed to do the trick back in September.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The day my hair froze...

Friends, I cannot move. Every single muscle in my leg is already cramping with soreness. Oh, but was it worth it.
So, as most of you may know, my boyfriend is quite the adventurer and outdoors junkie. That's not to say that I am not, but he is usually the one that initiates things and I come along for the fun! From ice-climbing and mountain biking in Peru to zip lining in WV, we've had many adventures already. So, when he approached me with the idea of going snow-shoeing in Austria, I said, sure! As I always am, I was a bit wary at first and always question my current stamina and conditioning for the activities he picks out, but I am so glad I went!!!
We booked a day trip with Yannick, who runs this one-man trekking business based out of Vienna called Trekking Austria. Anyone looking for an experienced and fun guide, I highly recommend him!!! (I also think this would be a great activity for Fulbrighters in the spring...if we can waltz, we can hike, right? Anyone interested??). Oh, and have I mentioned Yannick is a former French marine?!
So at 7 am of this dark, cold, rainy morning, Greg and I got picked up at the Westbahnhof by Yannick. It turns out that because of the weather, we were the only ones signed up for the trip--he kindly still ran it and even still gave us the group rate. We piled into his little car and headed to Steiermark (Styria) to a region named Semmering. Yannick explained to us we would be hiking a loop up to the summit of Stuhleck, which reaches 5846 ft. at its summit. With regret he warned us that we wouldn't be able to see any of the mountain ranges surrounding Stuhleck, since the weather was so awful. The entire climb to the summit was predicted to last 4 hrs. and then another 2.5 hrs. to reach the bottom again (we took a more direct route headed down).
We set off right after 8 am and in no time I was working up a sweat as we veered off the normal hiking trail onto rougher terrain. For anyone who hasn't ever walked in snowshoes... they are awkward at first and you have to walk a little wider than normal, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. We walked through the woods, climbed up rolling cow pasture hills, climbed over logs and through barbed wire fences, hopped across babbling brooks, admired evergreens dusted with snow and enjoyed the peaceful presence of nature.
Until, that is, we reached the summit.
Yannick had warned us right before we reached the plateau that we would have to walk more quickly, that we should add on all layers we have, and that the wind would be particularly brutal. Oh, was he ever right!

Friends, I love nature. I really do. But when we hit the plateau and moved beyond the protection of the nice, tall evergreens, nature seemed to release its full aggression on us! I have never physically been out in a blizzard before, but after today, I think I can say that I have. The further we climbed along the plateau, the stronger the winds got, blasting cold air and snow onto us relentlessly--it felt like tiny little pins on my face. Soon I was doing everything I could to keep my head down, turned slightly to the left, trying to tuck as much as I could behind my hood. Visibility at this point was about 10-15 ft. ahead--Yannick tried to point out the hut we would be taking a break at on the way up, but I squinted as hard as I could and still couldn't see it until we were literally standing directly below it. It was everything I could do to just keep putting one snowshoe in front of the other. I kept channeling warm, happy thoughts about our upcoming vacation in Florida over Christmas break...
When we finally reached the hut, I was so incredibly happy to see it--walking those last 200 meters reminded me of what it felt like the first time I ran a half-marathon. Relieved, happy, proud,... and utterly exhausted!

And then I realized that my hair had completely frozen over. I no longer had hair. It was a huge chunk of ice attached to my head! The picture is on Facebook, along with others from the trek.

Luckily the hut was nice, warm and cozy so it thawed relatively quickly--we had hot tea and soup to warm up our bodies, while our coats, gloves and hats hung over the enormous stove heater in the middle of the hut. Places like these are really common on ski slopes and trekking mountains in Austria. They are tiny little restaurants nestled on the summit of a mountain, and normally provide several rooms to stay the night for people on longer treks, as well. I asked Yannick how these places stay stocked over the winter and he said normally the business owners stay there all winter and some even have supplies flown in by helicopters. Getting "snowed in" takes on a whole new meaning after hearing that...
And Yannick was right about the lack of visibility--all the pretty mountains were hiding behind a thick, grey cloud (the same one that was responsible for the blizzard-like conditions...).
After we refueled, we made our way back down. Walking down in snowshoes is a bit more challenging than going up. You sort of have to sit back on the shoes and use your poles more to make sure you don't slide down the incline. (And, in case you are wondering, going back down the plateau was just as crazy as it was going up it--at one point I almost got blown over, couldn't see a thing because of the ice pellets and had to extend my mitten-clad hand in the general direction of Greg, while helplessly and pitifully shouting out his name...Being the patient and considerate man that he is, he came back and held my hand the rest of the way down--and remained close behind me for the rest of the trip down!).
Once we reached the safety of the forest's edge though (we kept joking about how we felt like we were in Narnia or Lord of the Rings), the weather condition improved a LOT! We wandered into the woods with fresh powder snow about 2 ft. deep and Yannick showed us how you can literally run down the hill in your snowshoes. It was a lot of fun! These forests had evergreens with branches so heavy with snow I thought they'd snap off at any moment. But it remained completely serene and beautiful. Snow was falling softly all around us, as if nature was trying to make amends for its bad behavior on top of the mountain. It was amazing to see how many weather conditions we actually walked through in the course of the day.
The rest of the walk down was pretty uneventful. We used a trail that--get this--a lot of people use back-country skis on to ski UP the hill. Crazy, I know. They do a 2 hr. hike UP to the summit in their skis and then ski back down. I mean, talk about outdoor commitment. I had never seen back-country skis until today and they have special adjustments and also special boots that allow you to be able to glide upwards in them. Sort of like a fusion between cross-country and downhill skis.
So, if you ever get the chance, go snowshoeing! And as bizarre as this sounds, the weather up top made it feel even more like an adventure and a true accomplishment to reach the summit. Plus, now I know what the Romantics were talking about in their poetry--its indeed a humbling experience to witness nature in a fury.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Balancing Work and Play

After an almost 1 month hiatus, I am returning to you, my friends! :)

I am currently sitting in a little English pub/cafe close to Schwedenplatz, sipping a cappuccino, squinting at my computer screen and trying to figure out whether I might need glasses. Or maybe its just because I have been staring at a screen for the past 6.5 hours. Today I sent out the first 20 pages of my next dissertation chapter. While I had hoped to have the entire chapter finished by now, at least I am making some progress and could turn something into my adviser. As you may guess, this writing has taken precedence over blog writing. I have tried a few times to sit down in the evenings and write a short post, but I can never bring myself to actually do it.

Another exciting step I took today was to contact the author I am currently working on. Her name is Barbara Frischmuth and she lives in Altaussee. I met her a few weeks ago at the Erich-Fried Literature Prize celebration at the Literaturhaus in Vienna. And if you're wondering, it wasn't a totally serendipitous meeting--I had looked her up online and realized that in a few days she would be speaking in Vienna, so I arranged to go (its wasn't exactly stalking... just a very well researched undertaking!). Monika, one of the other Fulbrighters, happily came with me and gave me the necessary encouragement to actually approach Ms. Frischmuth after the event. Even though I was really nervous, I managed to talk to her and she responded very kindly by giving me her email address. Hands shaking, voice wobbling, I managed to record it in my little Moleskin and thanked her profusely. Now, after about three weeks of pondering and composing, I finally summoned up the courage to send out an email today, asking her to meet and discuss her work with me. Its really a unique opportunity to meet with an author, particularly one whose work you're interested in, and I would be thrilled if she would agree to talk to me! I'll keep you posted on the outcome!

That's what's going on in my work world--I have been trying to balance some 'play
time,' too, especially since Greg will be returning to the States over Christmas and not coming back with me in January.
We have been doing a very good job at exploring the Christkindlmärkte of Vienna together and both agree that we like Spittelberg the best. With its cozy little cobblestone streets, unique craft stands and lots of food and drink stands, it gives off a very intimate and romantic feel (see right!).
The one at the Karlsplatz comes in at a close second--they really
have fantastic food (We ate baked Fladenbrot with cheese and bacon and waffles covered in powder sugar and chocolate!) and drinks (my favorite is Glühwein--mulled wine--of course! Punsch is also very popular and so is hot chocolate!).
We have also been to Schönbrunn, the Habsburg Imperial Palace. Their market is nice, but more expensive and smaller than the others. Unlike Spittelberg, it is out in the open, more spread out and consequently much colder at night. I had some Jagatee to warm up!
The Christmas Market at the Rathaus--and all of the outrageously decorated trees surrounding it-- is the one most geared toward tourists. You won't find the cute little craft stands like the ones at Karlsplatz or Spittelberg here. No, its more flashy, with mass-produced bags, hats, ornaments and jewelry adorning all the stands. So, if you're ever in Vienna at Christmas, skip that one and head to the MQ or the AKH for some Glühwein instead. They have smaller Christmas villages, but they're a nice alternative to the Rathaus and not too far away from it either.

Since I spent the last weekend writing like mad while Greg was away on a ski trip, I decided to make Tuesday and Wednesday my weekend. One of the greatest things about academia is that it IS rather flexible in terms of schedules... :) Greg and I took full advantage of Tuesday--we went to brunch at a cute little cafe in our neighborhood called Cafe der Provinz, which is best known for its amazing crepes, then tackled most of our Christmas shopping in the First district, the Naschmarkt and the Christmas markets, and decided to go to the opera in the evening. We got standing tickets at the Staatsoper for only 4 Euros and saw Richard Strauss' "Daphne." It was quite impressive! Greg was quite right when he said its amazing how integrated the cultural scene is here in society and how accessible it is to everyone. I mean, heck, how many people just decide to go to the opera on a random Tuesday night? But the place was packed!
We ended the fantasticday with a visit to Cafe Sacher and each had a slice of the world famous Sachertorte. Delicious!

Yesterday we spent the day at the Prater--and despite the fact it was deserted and gray, we had a lot of fun! We drove go-carts, sipped Glühwein, had Schnitzel and rode the Riesenrad when it got dark (but seriously, for 8 Euros, I'd rather go to the opera two more times than have one spin in the ferris wheel--that was way over priced!).

That's all for now, friends. We have one more week left in Vienna before we head back to WV for Christmas. I will try to post again before I leave--or maybe on the airplane?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jelinek, Streeruwitz, Beckermann-oh, my!

On the eve of Thanksgiving, there is always lots of talk of what we're thankful for and which blessings we count this year. Needless to say, one of the things I am most thankful for is this opportunity to spend 9 months living in Vienna! And it occurred to me that, aside from my museum visits, I haven't posted all that much on my undertakings in the cultural arena during the past two months that continue to make this experience invaluable. One of the most awesome things about being a grad student whose focus is on contemporary Austrian Studies is that I can actually justify going to the theater, a reading, or a film as part of my "Bildung." :)
To start off: on Sunday I was at the Schauspielhaus for an event titled "Jelinek. Dialoge. Sätze und Gegensätze aus der Literatur und Wissenschaft." It was a fascinating program that brought together young authors, actors literary scholars to pay homage to the work of 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek in innovative and creative ways. The focus of the program was to discuss what meaning Jelinek's work had for Austrian authors today. I was fascinated to see the emotions Jelinek evoked for so many authors: for some, their admiration for her work and her persona were unquestionable, for others, you could observe acute frustration in trying to distance themselves from her (how does one find his/her own voice in a time and space in which HER voice permeates, destroys, and dominates--as one author emphatically put it. In a very open and honest way, he expressed his deliberate choice not to read her plays for fear that he would inevitably begin to imitate her style in a subtle way...). I don't want to bore non-Germanist readers too much--suffice to say it was a thought-provoking and head-spinning "Auseinandersetzung" with her works (that, might I add, lasted 5 hours!!!).
I had been to the Schauspielhaus once before, and that was to see a stage adaptation of Marlene Streeruwitz' novel Entfernung. It was my first outing to the theater in Vienna and I was not disappointed. Full of satire, self-irony, and black humor, it was what I imagined and expected theater here to be like. It could very well be classified as avant-garde, 'post-dramatic' theater lacking defined characters and a plot-driven narrative. As the novel, the performance was decidedly rooted in Austrian culture--not in the least shaped by the Viennese dialects of the performers and the abundance of cultural references. All in all, a very enjoyable experience that I got to share with Nico, a former German exchange student who spent a year in Georgetown and is now here in Vienna!
Vienna was also recently the host to the "Internationale Buchmesse Wien" (which, I suppose I should mention, is nothing really like Frankfurter Buchmesse...one Viennese newspaper said the Buchmesse was hard pressed to compete with the audience that the Viennale attracts...) Anyway, though I didn't make it to the exhibit hall, I did manage to attend a reading by the Egyptian author Mansura Eseddin. You might ask yourself, why would I pick that? Well, since my research focuses on travel literature by Austrian women who write about Egypt, I thought it would be interesting to see what an Egyptian woman author writes about and how it is received in Austria. The event was held at the "Republikanischer Club" and was moderated by Günter Kaindlstorfer and Doron Rabinovici. Because Ms. Eseddin did not speak German, she read excerpts from her book in Arabic and afterwards, a translator read excerpts from the German translation. During the conversation, however, a simultaneous translator facilitated the conversation between the Austrian moderators and Ms. Eseddin. I was incredibly impressed by this woman's ability to switch effortlessly between Arabic and German. It was amazing to watch her at work--for me, she was the true star of the show. The conversation following the reading, guided by Kaindlstorfer, was interesting and touched upon issues of politics, women's role in Egypt, the Arab Spring, the author's writing processes, etc.. The only disappointment was that there was no time left at the end for the audience to ask questions. It would have been intriguing to hear what some of the readers would have had to say about her novel. I bought a copy of Eseddin's book titled "Hinter den Paradies" in German and hope to start reading it at some point (other grad students can empathize that "reading for fun" sort of loses its calming effect after you've spend all day reading in the library...picking up a book is the last thing you want to do at night, but hopefully I can make an exception for this book).
Finally, one of the highlights of my stay thus far was getting to hear feminist filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha hold both a lecture and a reading at the Uni Wien. Her visit was arranged in part though my advisor here, Dr. Anna Babka, who wrote the introduction to the German translation (JUST now published!) of Minh-ha's seminal work "Woman, Native, Other" (1989). Both of Minh-ha's talks were truly inspiring and gave me some food for though with regard to my own work.

As you can see, Vienna is providing a very rich, cultural environment for me to explore, think and work. I haven't really done any of the events justice in describing them--but hopefully it has given you some sense of what I've been up to the past couple of months (on top of applying for jobs, submitting an article to a journal for review, working on a book review... and, oh, yeah, working on my next dissertation chapter!!!!).

One last thing: a filmmaker, Ruth Beckermann, whom I am working on in my dissertation, just came out with a new film titled "American Passages". It was featured in the Viennale, but unfortunately I was unable to get tickets because it sold out on the very first day of the festival. However, it is finally hitting theaters this Friday and I plan on going to see it. Its a documentary filmed in the U.S. in 2008 during the presidential election/economic meltdown. I am intrigued to see what kind of image the film presents on the U.S. and what topics she has chosen to highlight. Here's the trailer, so you can see for yourself.