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Greetings from Vienna, #15

March 31st, 2004


Many apologies for sending this a day late. I blame it on the change to daylight savings time (which happens one week earlier in the EU than it does in the US, but that's a whole 'nother topic entirely). We should be back on schedule next week. Enjoy.

Old Business

A Link in Time
The "Dear Guest" link has been fixed. The program I use to "publish" my files to my website decided that it wanted to update all the files, including the sizable movies. My theory is that the "Dear Guest" page was being updated when I interrupted the process, which left a blank file on the site. Sigh. Since this was the only complaint, I'm hoping that the other links are working fine. If not, please let me know.

Footnote, Be Free
As some of you have noted (including my own, dear Karin), the last newsletter had a footnote #4, but no footnote reference in the body of the newsletter. As has been guessed, I deleted some content (actually shifting it to this issue) but forgot about the corresponding footnote. I knew I should be using MS Word for these things. Not.[1usa]


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Fifteenth, The First Month

I write this on the 25th, exactly one month after Karin and I got married. One month ago this moment, we were just arriving at the Volksoper, being late to "The Marriage of Figaro". To celebrate, I spent the day demolishing the last of the floor in the tractor shed with my father-in-law. But I will talk about that later. I would like to say that "everything changed when we got married", but that isn't accurate. That is not to say that everything has remained the same. A very happy memory is that of the first time I heard Karin answering her phone with her new last name. :-)

I suppose the phrase I would like to use is "paradigm shift."[2] In this particular case, I feel that being married has changed my vantage point. I've often read of people who say things like "marriage changes you". I think that that is, for good or ill, a rationalization. I believe that we are all responsible for our own changes; to accept anything less would be to give up our greatest gift from the Universe: free will. Having said that, I would also assert that we do respond to our environment: where we live, what we do, who we're with. Failure to respond would be to lose that other gift: adaptability. Marriage, like other Major Life Events, gives one a different perspective on life, one which can't be refuted or ignored. This is why I can't say that everything has changed. It is more accurate to say that my point of view has begun to change, and that nearly every day brings some new facet of this life which is and had not been my life.

I have no idea if this is anything like the experiences of any of you out there. Perhaps I'm getting a double whammy with the wedding and Karin's pregnancy, but I can't see how that would affect the essential nature of the changes that are happening in my life. (If any of you have a different viewpoint, I'd love to hear about it. Heck, feel free to tell me about your similar viewpoint.) Some things have not changed (or at least only a little), however: I am still frequently staying up later than Karin, my taste in foods (and condiments) continue to test the Karin's fortitude, and I remain the one taking longer to get ready to leave the apartment. (At some point, Karin will write about the last item.)

Weapons of Floor Destruction
Now back to the great demolition. When last we left our heros, the floor of the stables had been broken up, and we'd just started on the tractor shed, where the concrete was much stronger. This time it was just my father-in-law and me; Manfred did not join us. However, we were able to be more clever. Rudolf had figured out that we could use the tractor jack to lever up sections of the floor until it broke, or at least high enough that the sledgehammer could be more effectively used. So the, ur, drill[3usa] (which we did not use) was: dig under an exposed edge of the floor with the pick, remove loose concrete and aggregate with rake/shovel/hands, put a block of wood down for support, put the jack in and snug it up to the concrete, raise the jack until something gives[4eng], then clear away the loosened pieces. Repeat until coffee break.

Occasionally, we would have to apply "persuasion" to the concrete, either to break up a very large piece into smaller ones which we can actually lift, or to loosen recalcitrant bits. This "persuasion" came by way of the sledgehammer or the large pick. Unfortunately, I was rather too busy to photograph the whole process, so you will have to content yourselves with these pictures of my father-in-law using the jack:
IMG_2995_rudolfR_jack IMG_2996_rudolfR_Jack

While he did most of the pick/jack/hammer work, I was busy loading up the wagon with broken concrete. As I trudged out with my umpteenth wheelbarrow load, I could help remember the line from Sylvester Stallone's character in Antz: "You pick up dirt; you move dirt. You pick up dirt; you move dirt. Good workout. Lots of reps.[5]" From the next pictures, you can see that we managed to load up the wagon a second time, which, I am proud to say, was mostly done by yours truly. As for the size of the pieces, here is a close-up, with my work glove on the pile as a size reference.
IMG_3006_wagon IMG_3009_wagon_closeup_glove
And from the next picture, you can see that we've cleared out the two floors down to bare dirt:

You might, however, notice a white strip of flooring to the left of this last picture. This, unfortunately, confounded us. This concrete floor beam, which is about 10 inches wide (22 cm), supported the wall between the stables and the tractor shed. When we first unearthed it, my father-in-law thought that it might be as much as 50 cm deep. A bit of extra excavation, but we've been very successful with the jack, thought we. However, as we kept digging down, we kept seeing more concrete. When we finally reached the bottom of the beam, we were down something like 80 cm. At this point, my father-in-law decided to go to plan B, which is to rent a jackhammer and carve out a slice of the beam from the top, down to where we plan to have the under-layer of the floor for this new room. I don't know if we'll do the jackhammer thing this coming Thursday, but I will try and get some video footage.

So that was basically last Thursday. Except for this denouement: after we finished for the day, we went back to my in-laws to clean up. I was clever this time and brought clean clothes so that I could take a shower/bath (ur, another house without shower curtains). After my bath, I was on the computer (my usual place when nothing else is going on there), and my father-in-law came and watched the news after his bath. At one point, Rudolf turns to me and asks, in German, if I was hungry. I replied that I was too tired to be hungry. He feigned (or not) surprise and asked if it was possible that I would not be hungry around mealtime. We then both laughed for quite a while. I think we'll get along just fine.

Spring, Sprang, Sprung. (Spring?)
These last two weeks have brought some interesting weather to Vienna. We went from snowstorms and freezing temperatures just before the equinox, to temperatures of 20 degrees C (68 F), and then back to freezing temperatures with light snows. During this early appearance of Spring, Karin and I headed to Leopoldsberg, a mountain (1,394 ft/425 m) just northwest of Vienna. Leopoldsberg and its neighbor, Kahlenberg, are major attractions for both locals and tourists. In 1683, the xxx army hid behind these two mountains and swept away the Turks in a surprise attack to raise the siege of Vienna. The commanding views of the Danube valley are excellent, as you can see in this panoramic photo:
So it was no surprise to find ourselves in a standing room only bus, winding our way up switchbacks on a nearly balmy Sunday afternoon.

We we to Leopoldsberg first, really just to enjoy the view and have a nice lunch. Of course, I took opportunities to be a tourist, which you can see in these pictures:
IMG_2971_karinLN IMG_2972_ptsl IMG_2985_karinLN
After lunch, we semi-hiked over to Kahlenberg, where we had coffee and desserts of chocolate and apricot palatschinken (crepe-like pancakes filled with yummy things, topped by whipped cream). Here is another view of Vienna, from the vantage point of our table:
(Those of you went to the Prague dance weeks in 1999 might recognize this view. We were on the terraces here, getting photos, before going to dinner.)

After dessert, Karin and I walked down to the base of Kahlenberg, passing by numerous vinyards:
Most of these had signs, proudly declaiming which Weingarten served wines made from their grapes. As we entered more urban neighborhoods, Karin and I would stop and look at houses, and point out things that we like or didn't like. (It should be noted that this was actually the Sunday after we'd gone to the Blue Lagoon to look at model homes.) As we headed to the northern end of the D tram-line, we ran into Hannelore, the organizer of the Vienna dance weeks, her assistant Andrea—my witness at the wedding, and Frank: a wonderful dancer from the Netherlands I'd met in Vienna last year, who often appears with Hannelore's dance troupe. We had a lovely chat, and then they continued uphill while we kept going down. This just goes to show that there are only really a couple of hundred people in the world, or at least in Vienna.

We ended the evening with a stop at the ice cream parlor next to the subway station closest to our apartment. Unlike their American and British counterparts, Austrian ice cream parlors close some time in October, and don't re-open until March 15th. Given the warm weather (though turned chilly by evening) and all the walking we did, we justified a second dessert (especially since we sort of skipped dinner). Actually, what happened was that Karin told me which flavors she can't/won't eat (some have alcohol), then she let me fend for myself in the fray around the ice cream parlor. The lines were as wide as the counters, and people were two or three deep outside the doors. After something like 20 minutes, during which I'd rehearsed what I would ask for once I got to the front of the line, I got to order my 4-flavor special: pistachio, coconut, banana, and hazelnut. Karin and I walked home with our treasure (further justifying this second dessert), and called it an early night. And that was how we spent our first day of Spring.

Writing now some ten days later, the cold spell seems to have gone again. Temperatures crept back up to 10 degrees C (50° F), and being in the sun warms you up even more. The other sign that this may be the real thing is that I'm seeing people wearing trench coats instead of wool overcoats. Not many, but a noticeable number. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

German Class Update
This was going to be a my discussion of German grammar I'd learned in my new class, but I'm running out of time, so it'll have to wait one more week. Since that will be after this current session ends, I can give a nice summary report.

The Last Samurai
(This was originally suppose to go in last week's newsletter. It contains the missing footnote reference.) Karin & I went to see the latest Tom Cruise flick[6usa]. I had resisted seeing this at the English cinema due to an innate annoyance at Tom Cruise films in general, but a positive review from a friend with some knowledge of late feudal Japan convinced us to check it out. Unfortunately for me, it is no longer showing at the English cinema, so my review is based on the version dubbed in German, and I must wait until it shows up on video before I can get a full sense of it. It is hard not to compare it with "Dances with Wolves". The two main characters are certainly similar in their sympathy for American Indians. And this is followed in both cases by a dissatisfaction, if not outright disgust, with their own culture, as well as a period of "going native."

While I can't speak to the authenticity of the American trained and armed Japanese troops (I'm counting on those of you who do Civil War re-enactment to tell me how good the uniforms and weapons were reproduced), I can say that the fight and battle scenes with traditional Japanese weapons were very well done. In particular, I like the time contraction/dilation during hand to hand combat, especially the sequences featuring Cruise taking on the "sword master" and later, the assassins. In both cases, the use of flashbacks/flashforwards to show how the Cruise character is thinking about and analyzing the fight is quite in tune with the kind of training that I have aspired to.

The negative reviews of this film seemed to focus either on a) Tom Cruise's lack of range as an actor, and b) the "glorification" of the feudal Japanese culture, without giving a more balanced view of the socioeconomic costs of feudalism and samurai class culture (oppression of the peasant class, embrace of suicide, etc.) It seems pointless to me to go see Tom Cruise in a movie for his acting. With the exception of "Born on the Fourth of July", I expect Tom Cruise films to have several of the following: good looking people (male and female, including Tom himself), action of the (usually) over-the-top[7eng] nature, a plot which exist mostly to showcase good looking people and/or action sequences, and gadgets or machines which mostly appeal to men.[8] (For the record, I have not seen "Magnolia" or "Eyes Wide Shut". If either of those movies should change my mind about Cruise, let me know.)

As for the "glorification" of samurai culture, the movie does, on the surface, seem to spend lots of time looking through the eyes of Tom Cruise's at samurai and Japanese culture. From that point of view, it can feel like one big personal improvement ad where you are encouraged to set aside "Western" ideas, don baggy pants, and be at one with nature. However, those are perhaps the most superficial aspects of "bushi-do", usually translated as "the way of the warrior". In the simplest terms, the two distinguishing (and ultimate) aspects of the samurai are: 1) a samurai "owns" nothing but his/her honor (the "why" of life, if you will) and 2) every action should be performed with a singularity of purpose (the "how" of life). From 1) comes a certain disregard for life as Life (very antithetical to Western ideals), which is valued somewhere behind honor and obedience to one's lord. By extension, suicide, ritual or otherwise, is acceptable behavior in this paradigm. From 2) comes the ideals of discipline, be it in the use of a weapon or the growing of rice. These are ideas which would appeal to soldiers and warriors, and we can see Cruise's character becoming enthralled by this as the film progresses. To dismiss this would be to dismiss the main character's journey, in which he regains honor he thought lost for ever.

All of which is my long and roundabout way of saying that the movie, for me, worked on all the levels it was intended to work. When I see it on video, I'll let you know if it improves in English.


Till next week (and I hope not another late delivery)



[0][0.1] Out of hand: "out of control" or "beyond set boundaries".

[0.1] I don't normally start my footnotes at zero, but this came up at the end of writing this newsletter and I didn't feel like renumbering all the other footnotes. Sigh.

[1] Not: An American expression that sprang up sometime in the '90s, possibly from a movie or TV show. (I want to blame the "Simpsons," but I'm pretty sure that's not it. It could be "Vallytalk".[1.1usa,eng]) A "not" after a comment completely negates that comment. This is sort of verbal sadism masking as irony. I remember an earlier version of this, which was to append "I don't think" instead of "not". This would be short for "I don't think so," though I am of the opinion that many people who used the expression did not, in fact, think.

[1.1] An American vernacular which came from the teenager girls of the San Fernando Valley in the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area. It is peppered with the word "like" (as often as every third or fourth word) and the phrases "you know" and "for sure" (pronounced "fer shuure"), as well as featuring that famous phrase "gag me with a spoon" (which should really be "gag me with, like, a spoon, you know?"). Frank Zappa wrote a song about it in the early '80s called "Valley Girl," inspired by his daughter's conversation with her friends. (The Zappas lived in "the Valley", I believe.) His daughter, who is unfortunately saddled with the name "Moon Unit",[1.1.1] has a solo on the song.

[1.1.1] Not as bad has her brother "Dweezil", known as "Dweezil the Weasel". Moon Unit, according to her website, goes by just "Moon" now.

[not 1] This is not an orphaned footnote. This is just to check to see if you're obsessively reading every word. :-)

[2] It is unfortunate that the word "paradigm" has been abused liberally in these last few years, especially by the technology sector, and particularly by "internet" companies. The classic definition of a "paradigm" (i.e. before the 1990's) is the framework—particularly those in science—in which ideas are related to each other. One might say that before Galileo and Copernicus, the Aristotelian, earth-centric paradigm frame the way "natural philosophers" (i.e. scientists of their day) thought about the universe, which put Man at its center. Once the scientific community (such a it was), began to accept (and discover other evidence supporting) a sun-centric view of at least the solar system, this idea that earth (and by association, Man) was not the center of the universe began to affect the arts, religion, philosophy, and politics.

Nowadays, one is likely to read that the coming of 3G cell phones will cause a "paradigm shift" in consumer usage. I personally have a hard time equating the Scientific Revolution and the ushering in of the Age of Reason with the advent of day when it is common sight to have four persons sittings at the same table in a cafe, each having a different conversation on their cell phones, and occasionally pointing said phones at one another to take snapshots.

[3] Drill: American slang meaning "the procedure" or "process". Usually applied to something that is to be repeated. From the military jargon for regular training.

[4] Gives: In the sense of "yielding". "Nachgeben" seems to be the best equivalent in German.

[5] Reps: Short for "repetition", part of the mantra of physical trainers and bodybuilders everywhere.

[6] Flick: Slang for "movie." Comes from the word "flicker" ("flackern" in German), which describes the quality of the light from a movie screen.

[7] Over-the-top: Beyond what is expected; extreme behavior. From the first World War, when troops would be ordered to go "over the top" of the trenches to take on the enemy, usually with catastrophic results. Hence going "over the top" describes forms of extreme behavior.

[8] I imagine a Tom Cruise version of Hamlet in which he defends Denmark with a handful of troops against the entire Norwegian army, to be saved by Laertes showing up with the rest of the Danish army. Then our Prince (known to friends as Maverick) takes revenge on Claudius after cleverly bypassing master assassins Rosencrantz and Gildenstern in a mountain-side chase on horses, and "drops in" on his uncle's private chapel using a rope harness. After becoming King, he marries Ophelia, in a double wedding where Polonius and Gertrude also wed. Co-starring Anthony Edwards as Laertes, Penelope Cruz as Ophelia, Jon Voigt as Claudius, Sharon Stone as Gertrude, Gene Hackman as Polonius. Should make millions.



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