Previous Newsletter | Next Newsletter | Complete Archives

Greetings from Vienna, #20

May 4th, 2004


In This Issue:


Old Business:

Monday, Monday.[2]
As my friend Rob pointed out, presidential elections in the States happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It's a good thing I didn't have to take the test when I become a US citizen. Also, thanks to friend Matt for forwarding links on the history of Election day, including the very important fact that the date of federal elections are determined by the US Congress, and not, as I'd stated, set down in the Constitution.

Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth[3eng]
From friend (the Reverend) Shannon, I am told that "gift" in Swedish means "married". "Present", "Poison", "married." I leave the interpretation as an exercise for the reader.


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Twentieth, Score One for the Home Team[4eng]

Man's Best Friend
A news report forwarded by my housemate Richard tells me that the city of Vienna has ordered it's horse-drawn carriage drivers to install catchers behind their horses to catch the manure. Officially called "Exkrementtaschen", these are also known as "Pooh-bags"[5] or "Pferdewindeln"—"Horse diaper". According to an article I found at Vienna Online (in German), carriage drivers can receive up to a fine of thirty-five hundred Euros if "a Horse-apple lands in the street."[6]. Now those of you who've been reading this newsletter since the beginning (or at least since issue #5) know that I find the lack of "pooper-scooper" laws in Austria rather disturbing, so I find this new law aimed at horses to be particularly ironic. To quote one of the comments on the Vienna Online article:

Admittedly, "horse-dumplings" stink, but are never so harmful as car exhaust. […] There is, by far, more dogsh—, in the streets, on sidewalks, on the grass, etc. In many a neighborhood, one has to execute a perfect slalom so as to avoid stepping into a "dog-pile".[7]

I'll try and get a picture of a (unloaded) "Pooh-bag" or "Horse diaper" into a future newsletter. And I am sincerely, very sorry to those of you who might've been reading this while trying to eat or drink something, and have otherwise been put off your food.

Ditch, Episode II: The Sewer Strikes Back[8]
When we last left our hero, the ditch was nearly finished. You can see a panoramic of that ditch here:

The far end (away from the house) of the ditch is next to a concrete box set into the ground, where the pipes from the rest of the house converge, both for rainwater and sewage. There are also outflow pipes that connect to the main sewers. The plan was to punch a hole from the ditch into the box, and then connect up various pipes. This was what I'd thought. This was, more or less, also what my father-in-law thought. There was, however, some really dirty work that had to be down. The concrete box (I think it might be considered a "plenum chamber" of our drainage system) had accumulated water, mud, and other things which I hesitate to think about, even now. It is unclear to me if the rainwater and sewage pipes drained into the same outflow pipe, two different pipes, if one drained into a pipe and the other (hopefully the rainwater) drained into the box, or if there were leaks. In any case, our "plenum" had water and a black/gray ooze, which had to be hauled out by the bucketful and dumped. I was very relieved to do the hauling from above-ground, and happy to let my father-in-law work below. After we got that done, he took the percussion drill-hammer (a Hilti TE-72) and deepened the plenum, and also punched the hole to the ditch. Here are photos of the plenum from the outside, the hole to the ditch (from both sides), and the inside of the plenum:
IMG_3140 IMG_3138

After this, my father-in-law asked for the hose so that he could clean out the outflow pipe and he can begin installing pipe junctions. Within a few minutes, we both noticed that there was water coming back out of the pipe, and not very clean water at that. He then had me turn the water for the hose all the way up, hoping to blow through what might be just a bit of blockage with a combination of the water and some judicious pushing on the hose, using it like a plumber's snake.[9eng] No good, as you can see here:

The next day, my father-in-law brought a sump pump to get rid of the water while he tried again with the hose. Again, no good. Using the hose as a measuring tape, we found out that the blockage is several meters inside our yard, which is a bit more than even he is willing to deal with by himself. So we fall back to plan B, which is to drain the plenum again and connect up the pipes from our end, and then get somebody (professional plumbers, the city) to clear the blockage from the other end. As you can see here, the junction he installed has a hatch (I think we call it a "haulout" in the States). which can be used if we need to access the inside of the outflow pipe from our end.

We now proceed to dig three more ditches. I didn't know we needed three more ditches. We don't. We need four, but the fourth can wait. It turns out that my father-in-law is planning ahead. In the scenario where Karin and I settle down in Vienna, we would then remodel the rest of the property. Ok, we'd actually tear down the rest of the house, which occupies the south and west sides, sharing walls (and therefore no possible windows) with our two neighbors and build from the northeastern corner. But the important thing is that while we have the ground opened up, my father-in-law can drop in extra pipes, some for future construction while others are there to replace existing pipes, made of ceramic, asbestos, whatever. So I now got to dig yet more ditches, though none of them deeper than about fifty centimeters. Since I was busy working, I didn't get pictures of all the ditches in progress. Did I mention that since the last newsletter, I've been on the job site three and a half days? Anyway, you'll have to be content with these pictures of filled in ditches, #2 and #3, as well as the new ditch, #4:
IMG_4607 IMG_4608 IMG_4609

And just to show progress, here is another panoramic photo yard, from almost the same point of view as the picture above, showing ditch number one filled in:

Meanwhile, we also made some progress inside. The electrical cabinet is now on site, but not yet installed. You can see how big it is in these pictures. The folding ruler is one hundred and twenty centimeters, to give you an idea of scale:
IMG_3124 IMG_3143

I've also cut a second hole in the future kitchen for the gas distribution box.
IMG_3146 IMG_4535_fixed
All this is great practice for the really big holes that have not been cut: one for the large living room window, one for the bathroom, and enlarging two existing windows. Did I mention that these walls are twenty-five centimeters thick? I can feel the burn already.


Well, another newsletter has come and gone. Next week, a baby update, our life in the arts, and of course, the continuing saga of the ditch.


Bis, bald.



[1] "The Ditch Lowdown": I thought about calling this "The Ditch Highlights", but that implies some level of above-ground-ness, which is definitely not the case here.

[2] "Monday, Monday": Hit song by "The Mamas & the Papas"

[3] "Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth": English proverb, meaning "enjoy a gift instead of being critical of it." Knowledgeable buyers of horses would examine the mouth of the horse to see the condition of the teeth, which would reflect the condition of the horse—though I don't know how the correlation works.

[4] "Score": is an old English word for "20". Most Americans, if they know the word at all, know it from Abraham Lincoln's (16th president of the US) Gettysburg Address, a speech of 268 words which might just be the best speech that's ever been written about democracy.

[5] "Pooh-bags": The original Reuters story incorrectly calls them "Poo bags", perhaps to avoid any nasty trademark issues with Disney's license/ownership of the "Winnie-the-Pooh" name.

[6] "A Horse-apple lands in the street": My translation. There is also a tradition in English of calling horse manure "horse apples". However, cow manure is known, at least in the States, as "cow pies". The original reads:
"Landet ein Rossapfel auf der Straße, droht dem Kutscher eine Verwaltungsstrafe von bis zu 3.500 Euro."

[7] "Admittedly...'dog-pile'": My translation and extra quotation marks. The original (with the missing sentence restored) reads:
"Zugegeben, Roßknödeln stinken, sind aber allemal nicht so schädlich wie die Abgase der Autos. Als Touristenattraktion sind die Fiaker nicht wegzudenken. Es gibt bei weitem mehr Hundesch.... auf den Straßen, Gehsteigen, in Grünflächen usw. In manchen Vierteln muß man einen richtigen Slalom gehen, damit man nicht in Hundehäuferln steigt."

[8] "The Sewer Strikes Back": This is, of course, a reference to "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", which was the second episode of a trilogy until George Lucas decided that it was the fifth episode of a nonalogy (or three trilogies, but sequentially numbered as episodes one through nine). The careful reader might notice that this is in fact the third newsletter with the topic of ditch digging. However, I assert that in the last issue, #19, I wrote of my father's experiences as a ditch digger, and not my own, which, were I to further stretch the parallels to "Star Wars", would imply that I started with "Episode IV: A New Hope", but then jumped back in time to "Episode I: The Phantom Menace". I hasten to assure these same careful readers that neither my father nor myself have ever had artificial hands. And my father sounds nothing like James Earl Jones.

[9] "Plumber's snake": Tool used by plumbers to clear clogged pipes. It's simplest form is a semi-stiff wire which can be turned by a finger loop or a drill. The bigger ones seem to made of steel cable, with a cutting head on the business end, and I've heard of ones with a camera and light so the plumber can look inside the pipe.