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Greetings from Vienna, #21

May 12th, 2004


Apologies for getting off schedule. Got a bit carried away and didn't have enough time to get to the internet cafe.


Old Business

A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course[2usa]
Thanks to everyone who send me notes about the relationship between a horse's age and it's teeth development. In particular, my thanks to Deb in the Bay Area for a link from a veterinarian which goes into great detail on when horses' teeth erupt, as well as how they wear. You can check it out at Thanks also to friend Michael in Boston, who passed along another link which presented similar information, but in the form of a poem:

The Bear Necessities[3usa]
Karin has informed me that the German equivalent of "pulling someone's leg"--"Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden" does not literally translate to: "someone loosed (untied) a bear". While "auf" and "binden" can be individually defined as "un-" and "to tie", "aufbinden" has the figurative meaning of "to *untie*" or "detach", and the word is apparently not used in the literal, opposite sense. So to pull someone's leg in German, one ties a bear to them. Color me confused.


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Twenty-First, Major Milestone[4usa]

EU: Teenager No More
May 1st is normally celebrated as "Labor Day" in Europe: an official holiday when everyone is expected to be a bit of a Socialist, or even a Communist. In America, where Socialism and Communism were both persecuted and prosecuted in years past, May 1st is more likely to bring out Morris Dancers and Wiccans rather than politicians. This year, May 1st has a special significance for Europe in general and Austria in particular. Of course, I'm referring to the addition of ten new members into the EU, the majority of which are former Soviet satellites, now yearning (or fighting) to join "Old Europe". As for Austria, this begins a shift of the geopolitical center of the EU back to where it was a hundred years ago, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire *was* the middle of Europe.

While no one really knows how smoothly this round of enlargements will go, I am looking forward to passport free travel to Budapest or Prague, or at least the possibility thereof since Karin's work schedule keeps her tied up until July, and then her pregnancy will limit our ability to play tourists this summer.

Art with a Capital "A"
While life is not all skittles and beer[5eng] for Karin and I, neither is it ditches and classes. While we don't often get a chance to get out to a exhibition or concert, some do come along, we watch movies, and Karin--of course--*plays* in concerts which I get to attend. So I thought I'd give a quick update on these. First the concerts:

Karin has played two recorder recitals recently. Both were with the Early Music Department of the Konservatorium Wien, where she is studying. In the first, which featured all the students of the department, she played with her recorder ensemble. The second recital was for all the students of her recorder teacher, Michael Posch, and she had two solo pieces: Suite in F by Louis de Caix d'Hervelois and Sonata Prima by Johann Erasmus Kindermann. The second recital had one piece that was definitely not from the Renaissance or Baroque periods: Daniel Catán's Encantamiento (1991). While technically challenging (it requires the player to play two recorders simultaneously), both Karin and I found it excessively "modern". It is as if to prove their "modernity", modern composers insist on dissonance and downright atonalism for the majority of a piece. And while I enjoyed the references to traditional Japanese flute stylings, I personally found it hard to enjoy two recorders when they are wavering between a quarter- and a semi-tone apart. Call me old fashioned. I did get a picture of Karin playing the d'Hervelois:

On the flip side, we attended a concert of Karin's students. It was a "house" concert at the home of the Sigmund family, where the Sigmund girls, another student, their teachers (Karin and the piano teacher), and the grandfather of the other student all performed pieces. Much fun was had by all, and I've been told that I should prepare a piece for the next "house concert". Time to get out the guitar and the "fake" book. Here are pictures of the students and the teachers:
IMG_4553_fabiolaS_chiaraS_lilyPorkorny_fionaSigmund IMG_4592_??Schmidt_karinLN

Karin and I also attended a performance by the Hof-Dantzer, Hannelore Unfried's group of historical dancers. They performed at the Musikverein in a pair of shows for children. About 60% of the performance was Baroque material, with some country dances from The Dancing Master, a mazurka quadrille (not the ones we learned from Hannelore at the dance weeks), and ending with a waltz cotillion. I particularly enjoyed the cotillion, which the children understood right away as being games where the prize was getting to dance, or getting to dance *with* a particular person. There were also some great audience participation bits: one where the kids came up and danced the same steps as Hannelore, in her guise as Harlequin; and another where the children had to use their make-shift fans, but only when the bass played. All in all, a very nice afternoon.

From fine arts we move to more populist fare: in the last couple of weeks, Karin and I have watched: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Abyss, Bulletproof Monk, and Hero. We enjoyed all the movies, though unsurprisingly, there were many moments in Pirates where I am giggling at references from the Disneyland ride and Karin is wondering if I've lost my mind. For those who haven't checked out the extra materials on Pirates, I recommend the writers' commentary. The analysis of Captain Jack Sparrow as a combination of Bugs Bunny and Pepe LePew is wonderfully illustrative, and the discussion of the movie being more about other pirate *movies* than about the reality of piracy in the 18th century is also a treat, at least for us film buffs.

Bulletproof Monk and Hero are continuations of the Chinese martial arts genre, which Karin had first experienced with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Now the joke is that I'm suppose to "fly" around the apartment while fetching her ice cream, juice, and whatever else she might desire but is out of her reach.) While Bulletproof Monk was nicely done and a somewhat predictable film, I found Hero to be the most interesting Chinese film I'd seen in a long time. Like Tiger/Dragon, it takes tradition Chinese story elements and refracts them through a very modern lens, letting us see these stories in the context of present day sensibilities. In some ways, Hero seems like something that Akira Kurosawa might have made, with beautifully recreated, large-scale set pieces, making use of different palettes as we see different versions of the story. And of course, the retelling of the same story in different versions is lifted straight from Kurosawa's Rashamon. Since we watched it in Mandarin with German sub-titles, I rather floundered while trying to translate both what I heard and what I read. I'll have to rent in back in the States so I can get the English subtitles and puzzle out the Chinese, which is in declamatory rather than conversational form, appropriate for Qin Dynasty historicism but tough for someone whose formal Chinese schooling ended in the fourth grade.

I've also been doing some catching up on my reading. After some consideration, I ended up getting an eBook reader for my PalmPilot. It turns out that eBooks are about half the price of a hard cover, and this price drops as the book gets older. Though I'm not nearly where I was with my Amazon purchases in the old days (have to save money for the house), I *have* gotten a half dozen or so new fiction releases over the last months, as well as a reasonable German/English dictionary. The other nice thing is that I can also get eBook versions of classics, either free or for a minimal fee ($3 or so) with established editions such as those by Penguin. So I am reading Homer, Verne, Dickens, Carroll, and Shakespeare. On the other side of the bed, Karin has finished all the baby books that we've bought or have been given/loaned to us. She is now back to reading her novels, and the occasional article from my copies of The Economist. As for my leisure reading in German, I'm looking into children's books, which at least feels like homework that I can understand.

A Ditch in Time[6eng]
Last week's work consisted mostly of filling up the dug ditches, after we put the pipes in. I also emptied the wagon, which was now loaded with gravel and sand. And just ahead of the rain, I managed to get the the last ditch, #5, started, which can be seen here:
At the same time, my father-in-law finished out the other drain lines for the kitchen and bathroom, which means that the whole system is almost completely tied together. Now we just need someone to come and clear the blockage in the the main line out to the street, and we can get on with the serious business of putting up interior walls and fixtures. As part of that work, I got to wield the "jackhammer" again, a job which my father-in-law thinks I am eminently suited. Whether or not that's true, it's certainly building up my arms. And he's also gotten into the spirit of things with the photos. He would often ask if we should stop so that he can get a photo of me working. I have, it might surprise some you to know, declined on a number of occasion. However, the following is an occasion which I didn't pass up:
As you can see, I've improvised a cap and sunshade for my neck out of a pair of knotted up handkerchiefs. Quite effective, but I think that I'm also getting a serious "farmer's tan", which also helps.

This week, I think that we'll be cutting more channels in the walls for running electrical conduits, and of course, the last half of ditch #5 will be completed, assuming dry days ahead. Karin and I are also going to head out to get some estimates on windows and the terrace doors. So far, we've been getting quotes that seem rather high to us, but they are for custom windows that are aluminum on the outside and wood inside, with built in shutters and insect netting. We're hoping that ready made ones would be cheaper (by at least half), not be entirely tacky, and would meet our short term needs. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Baby Update
We have a new picture of the baby, which looks rather more like Homer Simpson than I'd expected:
At 31 centimeters and 700 grams, the kid is definitely coming along. She seems to like being on Karin's right side, and gets rather shy and quiet whenever I try to feel her kicks and movements. I'm hoping that this trend continues after birth, but we're not counting on it. We have already established that she is stimulated by music, as she is very active whenever Karin is playing or teaching. She also gets excited when Karin eats, which I personally attribute to an anticipation of the roller-coaster ride that is Karin's gastrointestinal process (when it has to share space with a baby). Karin thinks I'm being a nut, but that's hardly new.


Well, that's all for another newsletter. See you in six days (as we get back on schedule).

Bis Bald,



[1] "Round-up": American slang usually applied to a grouping of otherwise miscellaneous things. In the setting of a newspaper, it refers to a report which is actually composed of many different smaller reports, possibly of very loosely related stories or categories. It comes from the cattle drive of the American West, where the cattle has to be "rounded up" so that they can be "driven" to the "railhead", a place where the cattle can be loaded onto trains, destined for slaughter houses of cities to the east. Not to be confused with the herbicide "RoundUp", which name is of the same root, but concentrates on the sending to the "slaughter house" aspect of the original term, instead of the "gathering, accounting" aspects. "RoundUp" (the herbicide) is ultimately owned by Monsanto, the agricultural firm behind the genetically modified corn that worries many people in the world. One of the modifications is a gene which confers resistance to RoundUp.

[2] "A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course": Opening lines to the theme song of the 1950's American TV show "Mr. Ed", about the life of a talking horse.

[3] "The Bear Necessities": A play on "The Bare Necessities", a song from the Disney animated film "The Jungle Book". Of course, this was sung by a bear.

[4] "Major Milestone": To explain this week's title: Once upon a time, Americans were minors until they reached the age of twenty-one, at which point they could legally vote and drink. This started to change during the Vietnam War, when the military draft was re-instituted, and the eligible age dropped to eighteen. At some point, a political movement grew up around a Constitutional Amendment to give eighteen year olds the right to vote, based on the argument that if one was old enough to fight for one's country, then one should also have the right to fully participate in the body politic. Through the 70's, this extended to drinking. In the early 80's, in an attempt to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities due to teenage drinking and driving, the US federal government started to ask the states to raise their legal drinking age back up to twenty-one. As a threat, the feds would withhold funds to repair highways from states which did not comply. States like Louisiana, which depended on its reputation as a "party" state, held out for quite a few years, attracting 18-20 year olds from hundreds of miles around around Mardi Gras and Spring Break. Eventually, even Louisiana gave in, and now the whole country has the same minimum drinking age of 21. It is my understanding that "underaged" members of the US armed services may drink if they present their military ID, but that may no longer be true, or is only true while they're on a military base.

[5] "Skittles and beer": English expression meaning "leisure". "Skittles" is a form of bowling, and not to be confused with the multi-colored snack which invites you to "taste the rainbow". A more modern expression would be "fun and games".

[6] "A Ditch in Time": A play on "A stitch in time saves nine". Equivalent German is "was du heute kannst besorgen".