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Greetings from Vienna, #18

April 20th, 2004


Old Business

Cabinet Shuffle
Like presidents Putin and Chirac, I must change my cabinet. In this case, the "kitchen" cabinet will become the "electrical" cabinet. Apologies for any confusion or political upheavals this might cause.

What A Tangled Web We Weave
All of the newsletters are now online. You can now enjoy the words and pictures together, as well as click on links to go directly to a footnote, and then use your browser's "Back" button to return to where you were in the text, without all that annoying scrolling which I make you go through via the email format. The complete list of newsletters are at


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Eighteenth, Back to Work

Cobenzl and the Trees of Life Circle
I mentioned in the last newsletter, Karin and I met up with two of her former students and their parents for a nice afternoon at the Cobenzl, just down the hill from Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg (which I wrote about in newsletter #15). Aside from playing on the swing and wooden horse, we went to the "Lebensbaumkreis", which I translate as the "Trees of Life Circle". As you can see from the sign:

this is a circle of 36 trees, each representing some 10 days in the year, much like the zodiac. As you can see from the actual trees there, this is a fairly new project, and we won't see the space as envisioned by the creators on the sign above for several more decades. In the meantime, the predation of animals (both the four and two legged kinds) have made everything look slightly tattered, from the broken signs and graffiti to some trees that are entirely missing. However, the space is very lovely and surprisingly isolated, and Vienna can only be seen but not heard from its vantage point.

Of course Karin and I went to find our "birth" trees. Here is my tree: the Hornbeam:
IMG_3067_hainbuche_hornbeam_tree_sign IMG_3066_hainbuche_hornbeam_sign
And here is Karin's tree: the Norwegian Spruce:
IMG_3071_rottanne_norwegian_spruce_tree_sign IMG_3070_rottanne_norwegian_spruce_sign

Ditches and More Ditches
Some observations on ditch digging:

What war zone? you may ask. It turns out that Wiener Neustadt was the reluctant host of a Messerschmitt factory--eventually having the largest landing field in Europe by the end of the war--as well as being a major rail junction. According to several websites, the population of the city went from some forty-five thousand at the beginning of the second World War to less than a thousand at the end with only eighteen intact houses. Since 99% of the city is build on rubble, I encounter all sorts of dross as I deepen the ditch. Besides the usual bits of old concrete and brick, I'm coming across tile, glass, fragments of worked stone (marble and slate), metalwork (railings, hinges), and wires. (I meant to take a close-up of the ditch itself, showing the stratigraphy of materials, but that will have to wait for the next newsletter.)

Funny things happen when I'm digging a ditch. First, I hear music. It partly has to do which what I'm doing, but it's also the tools I'm using: picks, shovels, sledgehammers (though not so much for the actual digging itself). "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "The Ballad of John Henry" would alternate in my head. And since I don't know too many of the words, the cycles are rather short, which is appropriate since I keep having to stop and catch my breath. I wasn't having this problem when the ditches were shallow, and I had room to swing my implements of destruction, as you can see in the bathroom-to-be:

Sure, things got tight in the corners, but that's to be expected in an interior space. But I was going to be digging a ditch out in the yard, in the great, wide open. How wrong I was. First, the line from the corner of the stables to the central sewer juncture in the yard went past a shelf of metal rods, pipes, sticks, etc. Second, that line passes under the front corner of the half-shed which holds pieces of logs (from two to three feet long) as well as six to eight foot long logs that are waiting to be cut. Being clever (always a bad idea), I decided to put a bend in the trough (it wasn't nearly deep enough to be called a ditch yet) I was digging, just missing the logs. Well, my father-in-law corrected the situation with a couple of well placed taps (hacks? what is the action of a pick called?) of the pick, correcting my alignment (to Lawful Neutral, perhaps[2]). Here are two pictures of me going at the ditch:
IMG_3116_ptsl_pick_canal IMG_3122_ptsl_pick_canal

So now, I just have to complete the ditch, which drops from a depth of 40 cm to 100 cm, over a distance of perhaps 10 meters, at a width between 15 to 25 cm. My rough calculations claim that I have to move at least 0.6 to 0.75 cubic meters of (packed) earth and debris. It certainly feels like a lot more. I think I'm going to get a break this week. It's been raining, and wet dirt is harder to move (and heavier) than dry dirt. And as my father-in-law will not be around, there is no "inside" work that I can do alone. And I suspect that the next bit has to do with the electricals. You can see my father-in-law putting the final touches on the header beam for the electrical cabinet. And in case you're wondering, the cabinet really is that big. I asked and he has no idea why it's so big, but I gathered that it was cheap, which was good enough for me.

Karin and I now need to come up with some furniture plans for the new spaces, which leads to the next topic...

Our Various Plans for the Future
As mentioned a couple of newsletters ago, Karin will have the baby in Austria, and then we will head to California. After this semester, Karin will have two more years of school left before she gets her double "Magister" degrees. We will, we hope, know by the time she has to return to Austria, where and how we will live, long term. The current possibilities are:

  1. We live in the US permanently
  2. We live in Austria permanently
  3. We split our time between Austria and the US
  4. We live in a third country permanently
  5. ???

There are various pluses and minuses to all of these possibilities, but there are two overriding factors which apply regardless of what we end up finally doing: a) Karin has to live in the US for awhile to be able to assess the possibility of her living there (she's never been), b) Karin still has to finish her degrees. The first dictates that we go back to the State for a long stay, the second dictates that the remodeling has to be sufficiently complete so that she could live there, with an infant/small child for two years. As we are planning for the long term, this space that we're remodeling makes little sense if we don't think about what other functions it can have.

So in plans 2 and 3, we would want to continue remodeling the rest of the house, but still have a place were we can live while doing so. And what we're building now is a self-sufficient studio apartment in which two adults and a child can live for a couple of years. Under these plans, this "apartment" would eventual turn into the Karin's music studio, with its own bathroom and kitchen. She can practice there as well as give lessons in relative isolation. So this is the reason that we have to really plan this space, both in its immediate function of living space for a new family, as well as a potential music studio. I hope this clears up the remaining questions people have had about what we're doing.


Time to end this issue. Next time, find out about Austrian presidential elections, and why German "tongue twisters" break tongues.


Bis bald,
- Paul



[1] Ditching Class: To "ditch" is American slang for skipping something, usually a class or an entire day of school. I don't think that the British use this term.

[2] Lawful Neutral: From the game "Dungeons & Dragons", which used to be played with pencils, paper, and various dice. If you really want to know the details, check out the GameSpot site for a write-up:



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