Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's as Inevitable as the Tides

Resolved: Today is not a good day to listen to Big Star's Third, the Fairport Convention song about the guy who kills his one true love because he thinks she's a raven, or any other sad or lost music.

We moved to Vienna a little less than two years ago, with the crazy idea that we could buy a nice apartment and I could pay the bills by deploying my dapper eloquence with the English language, as a writer, a teacher, or maybe a proofreader. We bought the apartment. Paying the bills is another bag of hammers.

I've taught journalism and English, I've proofread several fabulous books, and written for a very cool technology magazine here. I've learned enough German to make myself understood at pharmacies and playgrounds. I know that at the grocery store, you gotta pay for your stuff, and bag it up yourself, and all very quickly because those Austrians in line behind you want to do the same AND GET OUT OF HERE NOW!! (more on this later). But the question is, will I make it? Can I find a gig where I make enough money to take care of myself and my family, and don't feel my soul being sucked out through my eyeballs?

I don't have the answer to this today. I mean I feel that I know, yeah, sure, it's all gonna work out. But.....well, maybe I should just sell a little, tiny bit of my soul.

I think about an interview I did with a singer once: he told me that the only way he could keep getting in the van to tour, and keep battling various road-borne fungi and band in-fighting, and keep eating shitty food and playing in toilet clubs, was to simply decide that fuck it--'Tonight, I'm gonna get onstage and be awesome.'

I'll try that.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Coffee and Cake at the Reumannhof

This is Reumannhof, one of the "peoples' palaces" built here in the twenties, during the days of socialist, Red Vienna. It's public housing. That is, it's cheap to live here, even though the building, like many of the hundreds of other Viennese social housing blocs (Gemeindebau), is crazy beautiful. I've always loved the house, and tonight we got invited up to one of the penthouse studio apartments to have cake and coffee with an acquaintance who happens to live there.

See, this is what I'm talking about. This is one of those John Travolta-in-Pulp Fiction-moments. ("You know what's different about Europe? It's the little things.")

Beautiful public housing. What a concept.....

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Star Mania!!

Some judge a country by its flag, others by the tone its people take when they say, "Please stop using my country's flag as a dinner napkin."

But actually, reality tv, and particularly song contests, tell you all you need to know about a place. My wife the scientist has become addicted to Star Mania, Austria's version of American Idol, and now I too am caught up in this grand spectacle of adorable young Teutons doing theirt own versions of various Celine Dion songs. Weeks ago, when I first noticed what she was watching, I told my girl that Star Mania flies in the face of everything I like about music. Then Ric did a punk rock version of the theme song from Biene Maja, an old Euro cartoon about a hungry bee, and Martin, the tall chirpy one who thinks he's straight, got kicked off the show after receiving a "sexual" fan letter. So I started watching, just as a nice way to spend time with my wife, you understand.

Last night was the Star Mania finale, a three-way championship round that should have been like King Kong versus Godzilla versus Gamera, but was actually more like, well, Tom versus Gernot versus Nadine. Within minutes of the opening credits, Tom, who is very lovable and who does not think he is straight, was killing it with a diva number called "When the Lights Go Down." Next up was Gernot, a frat boy who just narrates every song and frankly shouldn't have made it this far. True to form, he tossed off a smirking Frank Sinatra impersonation, and thereby sealed his own fate. Then it was Nadine's turn. Nadine is a 16-year-old brunette from Tirol. She looks like she will die of stage fright at any second before and after she sings, but whoa, when she sings, it's like ,"Yoo hoo, Mr. Grammy, I'm coming to get'cha." Well, she did some song. It was good. I felt like I was being sucked into the tv screen by her big brown Bambi eyes.

After Gernot got the ax, after the ensuing tears of victory and defeat, Tom and Nadine fixed their cold appraising stares on each other (actually they were both very gracious) and did their final finales. Nadine did some other song (Mary J. Blige, maybe?) and it was good. But Tom wore gold lame and did the theme from "Goldfinger"! He even held out his hand like a pistol and blew the "smoke" off the barrel/finger! That's it, I thought, he's lost, this is way too gay, way too much for the Austrian heartland. And I was right.

Nadine won, which was great, because she's extremely sympathetic and sweet and now she gets a record contract with Universal and I'm sure she'll be battling anorexia and drug addiction and a horribly conniving entourage very soon.

But, gee, Tom.... Despite my stated misgivings about Star Mania (which I stand by), it was really actually very truly moving when he told the host of the show why he sang "Goldfinger." He said he heard it for the first time when he was twelve. All his friends hated it, but Tom thought to himself, "Hmm, I kinda love this song." Then he said it was the first time that he realized that he didn't care what other people thought of him.

Actually, I have no idea what any of this says about Austria. But I've been smiling about it all day.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ich bin kein Berliner

So there I was, in Berlin for the first time, getting all creeped out by history.

I left one of the shopping streets in Mitte--once an east berlin blight zone, now a hip! artists! district with lots of coffee and Asian food!--and within a few steps, I came upon an old wrought-iron fence, surrounding what looked like a hospital. I don't know if it was the iron or the sooty look of it, but I suddenly thought, "They had a pretty shitty century."

My weekend was like that, and also like my first date with my (Austrian) wife: I kept thinking, "Don't bring up the Nazis, don't bring up the Nazis!" and then of course I brought them up right away. Guess all that horrible shit is still very present, in the air in Berlin, and also in the mind of any arriving rookie.

After living in cozy old Vienna for the last year and a half, Berlin felt much more like a real, big, straight-up City. Like New York, it's ugly-beautiful. The weather was everyday awful--gray and rainy and spiteful--so maybe Berlin is actually ugly-ugly, and I just didn't notice.

On the last day, I checked my bag at the new glass Haupbahnhof. It's a vast pomo palace, more of a shopping mall than a train station. After leaving my stuff there, I wandered around the city for the last time, ate some greasy Turkish food and took fotos.

By the time I got back to the station, the wind had kicked up and the sky was making blue-black threats at everyone down here on Earth. Police were blocking the entrance to the Haupbahnhof: they'd already evacuated it and now I had to give one of them my claim check so he could get my bag for me! Several days before, a wicked storm had knocked a huge steel beam loose from the roof of the place, and now they were afraid it was gonna happen again--so they just shut it down. So much for modern architecture.....

Despite the mobs of fellow travelers made manic by the weather, I made it to my plane easy.

When I got back to Vienna, it looked so cute and calm.....