(Yes, the quote automatically changes daily: No, I don't check it for quality.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mattersburg, Forchenstein, & Some Friends

My friend and former student Marko picked me from the little town of Mattersburg last Thursday. He put me up at his home in the village of Sigleß, because Mattersburg (pop. 6,000 - was 5,000 when I lived here 16 years ago) is too cosmopolitan for him. He studied music in California, and got his BA there, before returning to his home town. He's a talented, committed musician.

Sigleß has 1,000 folks or so. Fery, a friend of mine who owns two bars in Mattersburg grew up in Sigleß, which Marko didn’t know until I introduced the two of them. You’d think with so few people that everybody would know everybody, but it ain’t so.

My former landlady claims that I nearly gave her a “Schlag” - a heart attack (in this context), when I surprised her with a visit. She’d sent me a Christmas card asking simply to also hear a few words about how I am (I am normally a rotten correspondent), so I brought the card with me on the trip, and showed it to a friend of hers at the coffee house (really a “Konditorei,” but we don’t have a good English word for the combination of bar/coffee shop/pastry shop in English) that Martha used to manage before she retired. I asked Martha’s friend to call and tell her that someone from the high school was there to see her, but not to mention my accent. Her friend asked me if I wanted her to then lie. I explained that it was a joke (Schmee) rather than a lie (Lueger). She agreed, and Martha enjoyed my effort to let her know what I was up to these days. (It’s been five years since our last visit.)

Martha came down, and after hugs and a few stories, and showing her pics on iPhoto on my MacBook (the same beast that helps me generate these notes), she went to pick up her husband Hans, and brought him by. I had my back to the room, so when they returned, and she asked me to turn around, he stared, turned ghost white, and said something along the lines of, “Damnit, it’s good to see you, but don’t do this to me,” in rather heavy dialect. I went to their house for a snack the next day, and it was great to spend time with them.

Hans explained that he had a new hobby, “keyboards,” which I at first took to maybe mean video games. He’s a builder and construction worker, and though he knew I played music professionally, we’d never talked about music, even though I had once given a concert in the town. It turns out, he’s taken a rather serious interest in music. About five years ago, he decided to play the the piano (he’s had a few years with bad teachers when he was about twelve), but then...get this folks...buys a keyboard, sets up his room, found a teacher, and practiced three hours a day for two years. He now plays “at least” one hour a day. So Hans is my new Held (hero). I hear people say, almost monthly, “Gee, I’d like to play the piano.”

He’s the only person I’ve ever known who made a commitment to something like this, and did it. Strictly speaking, it’s much more fun with the keyboard he uses (it accompanies him), but the important thing is his on-going love affair with his keyboard. He played several pieces for me, the last one being his “Dearest’s Favorite Song.”

I don’t know which was more impressive, Hans, or Castle Forchtenstein, which has a distinction in Austrian history in that it never fell during numerous Turkish invasions (enjoy the link). It’s an amazing place (still owned, I believe, by Mrs. Esterhazy, though via a foundation that has worked out a tax deal – she lives in Switzerland, or so I’m told.

But my vote goes for Hans. Castles come and go, but people who do what their heart tells them to do are a rare lot.

Your correspondent,

Friday, January 19, 2007

Check out the links!

Every man has his Mecca. This is me humbly kneeling at a wall of Swiss chocolate, just two kilometers from the town where friends of mine grew up in Western Austria, called Lustenau.

I spent about an hour at a cafe where I used to be a regular guest in Mattersburg, Austria this morning, putting together some links - please enjoy them, and avoid doing data entry like I do!

Happy Friday from the other side of the world,

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Vive la Difference!

Forgive the poor quality of my Treo's pics; I had too much stuff to justify my older, rather bulky Sony Digital camera. It's ancient - like four years old. ; )

For starters, those darn foreign countries have nearly everything in a foreign language. I first came to Austria because I wanted to learn German, and continue to accept the reality that being able to say something fluently doesn't mean being able to function in that culture. I'll be darned if I could even write a passingly literate business letter in German. The above pictue was my first "Aha!" moment regarding puns. I knew each word, "Because ice not ice is," but couldn't get it in 1988. Then I heard somebody ice cream, and probably said, "I GET IT" outloud in the subway. "Because ice cream isn't ice." Got it.

Other things are different, too. We're used to doors/windows opening like this....

....but NOT like this. Oh, those wacky Austrians. But like so many other things here, these differences are quite practical. The window opened from above lets air circulate, but maintains safety. At least, that's my guess.

More later!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Magician/Piano Player guy on Vacation in Austria

Dear Gang,

I am back amongst old friends. I lived & worked in Austria's capital, Vienna, in the spring and summer of 1988, then after finishing my BA at UC Davis, returned on an exchange program to teach in a small town south of Vienna the following year.

I am tickled pink to be here. I've seen several friends, visited some old haunts, and spoken with other buddies. I've known some of these people for almost 19 years! Egads.

The flight to London was marked by its beginning (no available seat, but others gave theirs up), and the end (two hours wandering around Heathrow, the sleep-deprived victim of poor signage and low-grade English chaos). I wrote a bitchy entry about it, but it's not what the trip is about for me. Did I mention I'm tickled pink to be here?

(This guy is performing in front of Stephansdom, the great cathedral in the heart of Vienna. He's more obnoxious than Ash, that's for sure!)

In Vienna, friends came to pick me up at the airport. Away we went into the night, and after dropping off my stuff at their home in a district near Schönbrunn, the summer home of the Hapsburg Empire, we wandered for a few blocks to a restaurant, and had Italian food.

As is the case everytime I speak French or German, as soon as I engage in speaking for longer than a few minutes, I begin to forget English words I am looking for, and am left in the precarious position of not being able to either clarify a point in German (not knowing the word), nor being able to remember the concept in English to ask for a translation. It's always been that way for me (I'm sure there is a neat, neurological explanation for what is probably a common phenomenon), but no kind of word is exempt. I couldn't remember the synonym for quirky until the next day, when "eccentric" popped into mind, and I have found my poor brain busily circling itself, looking for such difficult words in my native tongue as gloves, or ground floor.

Friends wait politely, until my brain coughs up an appropriate work-around. Today, my friend Petra just giggled when I could remember the German word, but not tell her the English word.

I'll tell some more entertainer stories later, but look forward to working with you this year, doing either magic or music for your guests. As always, I can do everything from break the ice at the rehearsal dinner with some table magic, to providing a classy band at the wedding. Let me know what I can do for you!

I'll be back at the end of the month, but would love to book some work from abroad. Please drop me an email at the email below, rather than gmail.

Your Colleague,