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Greetings from Vienna, #1 (Paul Lee greets you from Vienna)

December 5th, 2003

 

Grüß Gott![1] as the Viennese say; or more informally: Servus!

It's been a hectic couple of weeks since leaving California on November 5th, but now things are settling into a routine here in Vienna, so I am finally writing. I know that there are some of you who haven't heard from me recently, or gotten an update since Spring or Summer. Mea maxia culpa for that and this wide-band email. Speaking of email, please let me know if I've duplicated your address. For the sake of expediency, I'm also sending this to several mailing lists, so if you get multiple copies, let me know and I'll fix my address book.

Now that I've kept you in suspense for that much longer, here is an executive summary of what's going on in my life:

  1. I am currently living in Vienna with my Austrian girlfriend, Karin.
  2. We will be in Vienna until July 2004, at which point we will wend our way to Northern California via the Boston area next July and August.
  3. Karin will live with me in California through the summer of 2005, at which point she will need to come back to Austria to finish her degrees (recorder and violin), as well as get back to her teaching job at music school.
  4. In the meantime, my house is being looked after by my new housemate, Richard Powers—world renown vintage dance teacher and historian, and a member of the Stanford faculty.
  5. My contact information in Vienna is as follows:[2]

    Paul TS Lee
    c/o Karin Novak
    Alxingergasse 72/5
    A-1100 Vienna
    AUSTRIA

    +43 676 598 1942 (Paul's Austrian cell)
    +1-650-430-4920 (Paul's US cell)
    +43 699 1903 3423 (Karin's cell)

Please note that Vienna is GMT+1, so we are 6 hours ahead of the East Coast and 9 hours ahead of the West. Good times to call are 10 am - 2 pm Pacific.

I'll save the full story of how I got to this point for individual email responses. Now on to Vienna impressions:

The Adventures of Paul in Vienna
Part the First: Where did Thanksgiving Go?

One forgets that Thanksgiving is an American holiday. No, really! It's quite a shock to leave the vestiges of Halloween, only to run full tilt into the Christmas Spirit as one is just starting to get a hankering for pumpkin pie, turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. Funny enough, right around the time that most of the US is dreaming/dreading Thanksgiving Day, I was in Wiener Neustadt, at the home of Karin's parents, making Chinese dumplings. I was well into my third batch when I realized that it was Thanksgiving Day in the US.

Now, a couple of days earlier, I did pick up some turkey and pickled vegetables in aspic from the deli section of the neighborhood market. I was actually aiming more for head-cheese, which, traditionally, is turkey free; but in my rush (as well as my rather cavalier attitude towards reading labels), I ended up with what I can only describe as the Austrian equivalent of low-fat deli cuts. It wasn't bad. Next year, Karin will get to experience Thanksgiving in all its glory, including watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".

Right. So no Thanksgiving clears the decks (as it were) for full on Christmas-ness. This is as true for Austria as it is for the States, or so I am told by Karin and everyone else here. I guess I'm not getting the same impressions of crass commercialism that the locals see, or else I'm still starry-eyed at the "traditional" looking fares and venues that dot the Viennese (and Austrian) landscapes. For instance, the Austrians (and perhaps all the German speaking countries) have something called a "Christkindlmarkt". These "Christ-Child"[3] markets spring up in plazas ("platz") big and small. The biggest one around here is in the Rathausplatz, in front of the Vienna City Hall, "Rathaus". (You can see this via webcam at "http://www.magwien.gv.at/english/webcam/cityhall.htm".) I'm told that the smaller ones are better, but I have to start somewhere.

All the Christkindlmarkts (and many other stands besides) have "punsch", which is not to be confused with English or American "punch", especially in its pronunciation. It's mulled wine, usually with fruit. The kiddies get "kinderpunsch", which is presumably alcohol free. So far, I like the "kirschpunsch" at the Rathausplatz the best. There is a two Euro deposit for the mug (which is a real mug in this instance), but they won't take back any that are chipped or otherwise damaged. The mugs are decorated, so it's a reasonable souvenir. Aside from the stalls with nummy things, the trees have also been decorated with lanterns in various themes: hearts, snowmen, candies, chinese lanterns. When the fog rolls in just after dark, the scene becomes magical. One can almost see the same scene from a hundred to a thousand years ago, celebrating the fruits of the harvest at the onset of winter solstice. Of course, there weren't quite as many digital cameras back then, and though Vienna has been a multi-ethnic crossroad for a long time, one doubts that quite as many earlier visitors spoke Chinese or Korean.

In the background, the Rathaus has devoted 24 of it's windows to being a giant Advent calendar, complete with daily surprises. I haven't been by since the beginning of the month, but I plan to go over later today (Friday, the 5th) and will report on the "presents" in my next missive. For now, I will not be amongst the photobugs. Instead, I will go buy some rosemary cured ham, farmer's bacon, and home-style sausages, and try to become a part of Vienna.[4]

Some of you have been asking me what I'll be doing here. I have suggested that I might be sitting around, watching TV, and eating bonbons. However, since Karin does not have a television, this puts a kink into my plans. But seriously, I have started taking an "intensivekurse" in German for non-native speakers. We meet four days a week, three hours a day, for two and a half weeks. It started rather slower than I'm happy with, but I hope the pace will pick up soon. Our class has a Bosnian housewife, a Yugoslavian taxi driver, a Turkish housewife, an (east) Indian housewife, a Ukrainian teacher (of Ukrainian and Russian), an Iranian programmer, and a Serbia-Montenegran waiter. Funny enough, we all speak English. The irony is not lost on me and the Ukrainian.

I also have four English regimental history books which have been scanned in. I've OCR'ed them, and now am editing the text. The aim is to convert them into accurate, electronic versions, and finally moving them to html and the web. I am also sewing a uniform of the Salem Zouaves, a.k.a. the Salem Light Infantry, ca 1860. At some point, after my German has improved a smidge, I will try to get Karin's (paternal) grandmother to teach me some of her recipes. Should be interesting.

Right. Time to hit a Christkindlmarkt or two.

 

TTFN, or as Austrian friends would say to each other: "Tschüs"
(t-s-c-h-umlaut_u-s)
-Paul

PS If you want postcards, please send me your address and subject matter preference.

 

[1] That's "g-r-umlaut_u-s_zet".

[2] if you want to be linguistically correct, "c/o" should be "zu Handen", and of course it's "Wien" and "Österreich" (that's a capital umlaut_O).

[3] "Baby Jesus" doesn't seem to fit here. Maybe if Wal-Mart picked this up in the States. Be afraid.

[4] I'd say "blend in", but that's a bit more difficult here, despite the thriving Chinese community.

 

 

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