Saturday, November 22, 2008

vignettes of vienna

It snowed today.  Dumped it all over the place.  At one point in the day the flakes were the size of thumbnails, light as feathers, and then I turned my head to feel small dip n' dots upon my hands and eyelashes.  Being from Tennessee, snow never quite gets less magical.  The majority of our group is still traveling outside of Vienna seeing as it's Saturday, but there were 8 of us today that kept running outside to stick our face toward the sky and decided to use our giddy energy on something more athletic, or in my case, more humorous:  ice skating.  

Bintu in action

Last weekend they opened the outdoor rink near Staatpark, and we thought that today's setting gave us few excuses not to participate.  I think I've ice-skated twice in my life, and neither one of those times was anytime recent.  So let's just say that the 3-year-old was definitely out-skating me.  It was like learning how to ski all over again:  100% muscle tension, crouching back/beant knee syndrome, the distant fear that that same 3-year-old punk would take me out and I'd break the other half of my body.  Ah, but I didn't fall once.  Considering the fact that I was too scared to try to be half-way decent, I don't think the balancing act was anything to be proud.  But the fact that we laughed, sang, and looked a fool altogether was more than worthy of a hint of pride.

Lately, I have realized how many things I've done in Vienna this go around that I never got around to or had inkling to pursue in the past.  It has given me great pleasure and a sense of satisfaction to love a place with more energy, effort, and surprise.  Six weeks ago, Denton, Matt and I sat together in a train compartment on our group's trip back from Italy.  We were accompanied by a Viennese couple who had been to Venice for a weekend.  It wasn't long until Martin, the husband, definitely the more gregarious of the two, stole my heart.  He told of his adventure to America in the early '70s during which he traveled cross-country by Greyhound bus: from New York to California, California to Macon, Georgia (because there was no way he was going to America and not stopping through Allman Brothers Band territory).  Turns out he's a pediatrician who ran in the Boston Marathon and has been in a cover band (mostly 70s music) for some years now.  He casually mentioned their next performance:  November 21st at The Little Stage.  We enthusiastically replied that we would love to try to make it.  Well, we made it:  that is, me, Denton, and Bintu (Matt meandered off to Amsterdam).  As we turned the corner from Pilgramsgasse U-bahn stop on the green line to see the sign for Little Stage we jumped at the realization that this was also an Irish pub.  Oh goodness--Irish pub in Vienner.  

There were most likely a hundred or so folks gathered (please take note, however, that I am the world's worst at projecting numbers in could have been 50 or 300, anyone's guess, really) together to hear cute marathon-running Martin's cover band in a rather small venue...they weren't kidding with the Little adjective.  Part of the overall exhilaration was actually listening to live music, and the other was when Martin's daughter in her early 20s climbed up onstage, grabbed the microphone, and belted out the most soulful alto.  We danced and laughed and, of course, sang along.  And when Tina Turner's "Proud Mary (Rolling on the River)" came to "Cleaned a lot plates in Memphis," you best believe I screamed my own alto Memphian voice to add to the hub-bub.  It just made the evening better when we gradually made our way to the front and Martin's sweet, quiet wife caught our attention, greeted us a hello, and turned to all her friends with our history.  During intermission Martin proved to be ecstatic over our presence and even gave his 'Nashville' and 'Memphis' friends a shout-out three more songs into their set.  We were the subjects of many a stare, and my first live show in Vienna ended up being a classic.

Along with my mother's and Kenna's visitations the past month, my middle sister, Rachel, also came over for a week.  In addition, Sarah, friend I visited in Cheb, Czech Republic, the first weekend came down for her birthday weekend to reunite with Rachel and explore the glory of Vienna.  It just so happened that Rathaus Christkindelmarkt opened that very weekend.  We drank mug-full shots of rum (rather, we sipped 1/10 of the mug-full and threw the rest out), bathed in the unusual november sun and warmth, and enjoyed time together, yet again, in a foreign city. 

Sarah, Rachel and me at the Christmas Market drinking that juice

Rachel and me at Schonbrun Palace

Somewhere in between these visits, I got together with Balazs and Georg, friends of friends that I sat next to at Mandy and Eric's wedding reception 2 years ago.  Being great local hosts, they invited (and I subsequently invited 3 of my students:  Allison, Matt, and Chris) for dinner out in Grinzing (the Vienna Woods) known for its Heuriger cuisine.  Heuriger is an Austrian meal centered around their local wine served.  With vineyards surrounding our small restaurant, we enjoyed one another's couple in a truly native setting.  During our conversation, it came to our attention that Georg was just about obsessed with football.  We made mention that we would have loved to have gone to a match while in Vienna, and the next day I have an e-mail saying that he was able to get 6 tickets to the following week's Austria Wien vs. Rapid Wien local match-up.  So that Tuesday night, us four were off on another adventure including:  tour of Georg's family sausage-packaging company, gulash and schnitzel from a local restaurant, and the absolute madness of a 3,000 seated stadium.  I swear it was louder in that small stadium than a packed house in FedEx Forum for WWE Monday Raw.  These fans didn't stop for 2 solid hours.  Their 'head cheerleaders' stood with megaphone, green or purple make-up pending the team, flags serving as dresses, and with upmost loyalty and pride screamed songs and chants unceasingly...I'm pretty sure I was more impressed by the cheering sections than the football players.    The fear of post-celebration/rivalry fights (non-alcoholic beer was the only thing served due to past brawls) caused the local Viennese police to stand shoulder to shoulder blocking off the entire road's walking and driving transportation with helmets, shields, and clubs....We waited in the late, cold air for 30 minutes.  Intense.  Austra Wien upset Rapid 2-0.

And there you are, a glimpse into the ever-random, always-revolving views from this life at this particular time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

walking on water

excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.  If our lives are truly 'hid with Christ our God,' the astounding thing is that this hiddenness is revealed in all that we do and say and write."

"Our sins defeat us unless we are willing to recognize them, confess them, and so become healed and whole and holy--not qualified, mind you; just holy."

"But only if I die first, only if I am willing to die.  I am mortal, flawed, trapped in my own skin, my own barely-used brain.  I do not understand this death, but I am learning to trust it.  Only through this death can come the glory of resurrection; only through this death can come birth."

"In the realm of faith I know far more than I can believe with my finite mind.  I know that a loving God will not abandon what he creates.  know that the human calling is co-creation with this power of love.  know that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord."


Thank you, Kristen.  You are my sister and in my prayers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

hooters and hikin'

Die Schweiz Collage

Halloween weekend 2002, a group of 8 girls met up with another similar group of fellas in Interlaken, Switzerland, at the tail end of their European fall break.  Some paraglided, others rode horses, and a few even dove through the sky from a plane with a man attached to their body.  It is not hard to fall in love with Switzerland--its romantic rivers that carve veins in between villages of quaint, delicate homes that map out valleys bordered by mountains of magnificence.  

And so it is that I returned with another group of fellas and a few ladies.  After an overnight train that dropped us off into the cozy town and an even cozier, crunker Balmer's hostel, Marc, Matt and I set off for a quick stroll up a hill.  Turned out to be not so quick, strenuous, and a mountain.  But to be outside hiking with weather pristine, skies the color of these photos, and good company is usually the formula for my perfect days.  That afternoon we enjoyed a lunch from the local COOP, Matt, Allison, Allison, and Chris went skydiving (Brad and Tyne followed suit the next day), and after some rest we prepared for dinner.  Being in Switzerland we thought fondue was the most appropriate dinner together, but after looking at a menu, we decided 49 bucks was a bit much.  So our American appetites looked across the street and was drawn in by the smell of burgers, fries, and tackiness.  I couldn't stop laughing at the irony of it all:  my first time at the classy establishment was in..switzerland.  Allison's club sandwich came with some kind of streamers on toothpicks, and the waitresses wore the same hideous nylon hose that resembled white plastic tubes on their legs.  Amazingly was beating Chris in foosball and Matt in ping pong...don't mess.  I gave Matt and his pipe company into the night under a cold starry black blackdropped sky.

After morning coffee and a newspaper read, our group (minus the 2 skydivers) went on our Gimmelwald adventure.  And that it was.  We hiked high enough for our lungs to hurt and snow to rest at our feet.  The Jungfrau, also known as the Top of Europe, was our neighbor for our day's trip, and the faces of sheep and cow looked amused that we would even come into their presence.  We took photos and meandered throughout the small roads where no cars ride and a few residents stride.  Everything was right for a moment, and so it has been for the past few months.  Moments of peace and truth, community and clarity.  I am thankful for this time.  

May God's kingdom come and his will be done.  May his servants be given the strength to be imitators of his love and glory.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

sunset says, "we see this all the time."

I set my alarm for 3am.  And I woke up.  I've always written better in the middle of the night when the mind is somewhat untainted by a day's worth of thoughts and responsibility.  And so I hope to document the past few weeks when my mother flew to Vienna and we traveled by train, metro, bus, and foot to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and, naturally, Osterreich.  

It was mandatory that she stay in Vienna at least 4 days in order to understand the diversity of beauty in this city.  An opera, a symphony, museums dedicated to Gustav Klimt and Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a handful of palaces, and a cemetery honoring several million (post-humously, of course) were just a bird's eye view of this beloved home's treasures.  Two Saturdays ago we reserved couchettes (a sort of bed) on an overnight train to Florence where our 'abroad' journey would begin.  Sleep is more of a theory on overnight rides for me, and without the companion of music my mind may have succumbed to the hypnotism of the train's rhythms and anonymity of dark skies and street lights.  

'For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti' - Sufjan Stevens
'Hey ya' - Obadiah Parker
'Seasons Change' - Corinne Bailey Rae
'Raining At Sunset' - Chris Thile
'In Your Atmosphere (Live)' - John Mayer - the last minute and a half...just put it on repeat.
'Daughters (Live)' - John Mayer
'Free Fallin' (Live)' - John Mayer
'Gravity' - John Mayer
'Worlds Apart' - Jars of Clay

Just to give you an idea of my sanity. 

With bags under our eyes and ache throughout our limbs, we walked into Florence at dawn, around 6am, Sunday morning.  We started our 6-hour tour with the cobble-stoned streets to ourselves...streets to ourselves.  This, in Florence, is a profound treat.  The stillness in a town where 25% of world's classic art resides makes your ears hear a little better and you start looking out the corners of your eyes in order not to be surprised by Caravaggio's ghost or Michelangelo's exhaustion. The silence wasn't exactly frightening because nothing can be too frightening at the beginning of a day, but it was eerie, like I shouldn't be there.  Or maybe that I shouldn't be allowed to be there.  But I was, and so was my mom, and we watched the sun rise over Tuscany's famed hills from Ponte Vecchio bridge.  

that sunrise from ponte vecchio

That afternoon we caught our train to Cinque Terre.  Six years ago, a large group of us escaped to this Mediterranean haven made popular by Rick Steves for the day (on our Italy group trip), and Austin, Josh, Hunter and I started hiking.  We went from Riomaggiore to Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza.  Somewhere along the four (of five) villages we ate seafood spaghetti from a woman on the coast.  It has remained a favorite day in my life.  Having heard all the hype from my past experience, my mother was insistent on seeing such a place.  Cinque Terre doesn't disappoint.  


And, as in many moments in the livelihood of traveling, we met instant friends.  Unlike many of those moments, these were not just interesting roamers, they were more like kindred spirits:  Mariah and Tor.  When this quiet, handsome shaved-headed man in his mid-thirties introduced himself, I understandably repeated, "Tor?"  He casually responded, "Yeah, my parents were hippies and thought Tom was too common and came up with Tor instead."  I liked them immediately.  They have been married a couple years, live outside of San Francisco, and were traveling throughout Italy for 3 weeks to celebrate the end of long schooling in both their lives.  Mariah is now a psychologist who studied for a year in Italy twelve years ago.  They met working at a non-profit organization where they invested in the lives of teenagers, Tor just finished film school on top of co-fostering two teenagers while he was still single, and Mariah was busy reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Yes, conversation was unceasing.  They sweetly invited Mom and I to join them for dinner after we had gotten settled into our hostel, and so we dropped our bags in Levanto (5 minute train ride from Cinque Terre) and wandered, ate, and communed with Tor and Mariah until long after sunset.  It is often I wished there could be a place on earth where blessed strangers could become dear friends.  

We awoke the next morning to the kind of sky where the sun rays burst through thick clouds dramatically, and dance upon waves.  We hiked just two of the villages, breathed gallons of fresh air, and left for Nizza Monferrato to visit with my friend, Rachel Stowe-Scarci, and her darling husband Giulliano.  Their cute and cozy apartment where the year-long newlyweds have lived was a inviting refuge for two nights, as was their company.  Tuesday, our full day with them, we spent the day touring Giulliano's family vineyards, the winery where they take their harvested grapes, and Rachel and I went to yoga.  First things first, the moment Giuliano took us outside of the winery with small plastic cups (just larger than a Protestant communion beverage), went to the container that held 100,000 gallons of wine, poured us cold, un-filtered, dessert wine, I knew that that very moment would be a good one to remember.  

Giuliano, Rachel, me, & Mama

The fog was caught in between the rows of grape farmland and gave the small Northwest Italian countrysides grand mystery.  It was a lovely contrast to slow down our travels and observe the sleepy town that made no money from tourism, and to distance myself even further from the whirlwind of hop-scotching across Europe through yoga...yes, of course, in Italian.  Being the fantastic hostess that she is, Rachel invited me along to her weekly class that met in a elementary school gymnasium in a nearby town.  About a dozen women ranging from the age of 20-50 took their instruction from a soft-spoken middle-aged man, who, incidentally, was the object of six out of twelve women's (above the age of 35) flirtation.  The combined factors of the foreign language, the 9pm starting time, our hunky instructor's whisper of a voice, and the elevator music turned classical turned Kenny G and Toni Braxton soundtrack made my rigid body quickly want to fall asleep on the wooden floor with only a thin foam mat to border my skin to its cool temperature.  Relaxing? Yes.  Entertaining? Absolutely.  Since I couldn't exactly concentrate on his more spiritual implications for our exercise, I looked to the gym's walls for amusement instead.  It was well-documented by the hands of 8-year-olds that Halloween was just three days away.  Witches and pumpkins were colored orange, purple and green; however, my favorite pieces of decor were the colored in pirates.  It was the stereotyped visual of a man with peach skin, an exaggerated snarl, crooked teeth, large hat, gold hoop earring, and the eye patch with a skull and bones taking the place of a useful eyeball.   It was so non-counter-culturally hypnotizing.  And, thankfully, the musical genius was redeemed by the Salzburger bus driver 4 days later with a bit of Bobby Dylan.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Post-yoga sweet slumber prepared us for the following day of trains...out of Italia into the land of Switzerland.  At the small town of Visp, we transfered to a local, posh train that slowly took us higher in elevation to the wealthy, elite, community of skier and snowboarder, snowbunny and bum alike, Zermatt.  We were welcomed by thick fog and heavy flakes of snow, and so we combatted the elements with hot chocolate, tomato soup, and buttery military defense a girl can ask for.  Thick white quilts covered the land, cemetery laying to rest approximately 37 people, trees, cars, and church steeples.  The morning was beautiful, and after our long breakfast, mother and child saw the fog lift for our final hour...the Matterhorn revealed the majority of its jagged face, and the father and son duo that slept above us on the hostel bunk beds were able to shred the gnar gnar after 80 mph winds the day before.  

Matterhorn:  Zermatt, Switzerland

It is hard not to be so satisfied with velvet snow, but our schedule pushed us onward to Salzburg, Austria--home of Redbull, mountains, and the worldwide spectacle of a 1965 Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Our midnight arrival begged for slumber, and an early departure on The Sound of Music tour.  Sue, our bombastic, humorous British leader kept us going with the most touristy, cheesy, and fabulous bus ride filled with trivia and celebrity gossip.  From the gazebo where Josh danced with me 6 years ago (we were 19 going on 20), the family house, and wedding chapel, we ended  up spending 4 hours climbing every mountain and fjording most streams. 

small town outside of Salzburg, Austria

The evening was filled with fajitas and a hostel-wide viewing of that same 1965 really is spectacular how 75% of Salzburg's tourism comes from that one film.  

One major city left:  Munich.  The vast majority of the designated time was spent going to and fro Fussen, land of Neuschwanstein, the castle-making of crazy Ludwig and destination of all Asians and Americans.  The hike up was filled with the golden nature of autumn and the stroll down was highlighted by 4 euro bottles of water.  Returning to the streets of Munich, my instinct navigational magnetism took us to the downtown streets with lights, brezels, kirches, and one large rathaus, but it still had nothing on our Vienna Hogwarts Rathaus.

Eight days, four countries, and six cities later, Mom and I made it back to the comfortable confines of Hotel Theresianum.  Nothing like home after too many trains.  Sunday was spent resting, welcoming Kenna to a land on the other side of the world, and hearing the many anecdotes of my students and their even more impressive travels.  

And thus ended fall break zweitausendacht.  Monday was busy with Van Gogh, Schonbrun, perfume buying, and candy accumulating.  Mom, Kenna, Kayce and I ate good food and gabbed.  Tuesday morning I hugged my mama and sent her off to the airport.  Kenna time and Interlaken followed quickly thereafter.  Die Schweiss will undoubtedly be covered in the next few days.