Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cinema under the Stars

For me, summer in Vienna means sitting in a couple of parks here and watching great movies on the big screen as night falls around us. Maybe it brings back memories of the Chief Drive-In movie theatre in Austin, Texas, where I would sit in our Oldsmobile, or on top of it, and watch something like Patton, with George C. Scott, on an airless summer night. Weather being what it is here, my more typical Vienna experience has been the night I sat through 2001, riveted, despite the light drizzly rain and damp plastic seats. Guess I haven't really grown up much--when a movie is fantastic, or even just okay, I'll stick around to the bitter end.

Tonight, I'm in the Augarten, in a small grove of trees, surrounded by a white picket fence and crickets, looking up at an empty turquoise screen and waiting for The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. It's been years since I've seen it, and I remember it as a swindle itself. But almost any movie is better when the house lights are hung from trees and moths play across the screen before the feature presentation.

(Note from several hours later: I remembered correctly. Swindle is better as a document than a movie; if you stretch and strain a bit, you can see a great band underneath all of Malcolm McLaren's mercenary cleverness. I timed all my trips to the bar so that I missed some of their manager's witty, unwatchable scenes, but none of the grainy footage of the Sex Pistols themselves.)

I go to the Augarten or the Prater film festivals to see films I've never heard of, and others I've seen already. The other night, even though the skies were light gray and threatening rain, I rode our family bike--the clunker with the kid's seat--over to the park to puzzle through Memento again. The place was almost completely empty when I arrived, and the guy at the ticket office told me they'd canceled the showing because of the weather.

"The movie's playing at the Gartenbau Kino, instead," he said, naming one of Vienna's most fabulous (indoor) movie theaters. "You've got time to make it over there."

"But there, it's just another movie," I smiled, as I turned to leave.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

again with the skin again

In a previous episode of Euro Like Me, Adinah encountered some unpleasant little girls who made fun of her and her Ethiopian friend Teresa. After a conversation with my wife and several thoughtful comments posted here, I decided to stop trying to understand or explain why two strangers would laugh at her brown skin, and instead just ask my daughter what she thought of the whole thing. Here's how it went:

P: How did you feel about it when those girls laughed at you, Adinah?
A: I didn't love it. I thought it was silly.
P: Yeah, it seems silly to me, too.
A: Yeah, because why should they laugh because they can see brown people on the street all the time.
P: Yeah, I think so.
A: Then Teresa--you know what?--Teresa said something really funny to them.
P: Really? What did she say?
A: She said, "I laugh at you because you're white and have blond hair! You have pink skin!'"
P: She said that?
A: Yeah. Then she said,'Baby!' I said it too!
P: Wow.
A: Then one of the girls, she said to Teresa, 'Bloedder caki (stupid shit)--you will die tomorrow!'
P: Whoa. Which girl said that?
A: She was called Sophie. The other girl only laughed once--she was Mariella. We played later. She gave me a drawing at the end of the party.

These seemed to be the salient points for Adinah: silliness, babyish-ness, stoopidness, then playing with one of the pinkos after the words were exchanged.

Talking with my girl is so great lately. It seems that little kids can be not only brutal, but perceptive and quite forgiving as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Few Questions about Everything

Why do jellyfish sting people? Why are cold pizza and cold fried chicken so good, yet cold french fries beneath consideration?

Why are Viennese summers colder and rainier than New York City winters? Why do couples here--husband and wife, mother and daughter, friend and friend--sometimes dress identically, in the curious configuration they call 'partner look'? Does the Viennese subway map--one of the most useful and used graphics in the city--actually bear any connection to the geography of the city, or is it just an abstracted flower?

Why does Celine Dion continue to get work? Why did Heath Ledger have to go and die like that? Is Courtney Love still alive? What will Viggo Mortensen (sigh) do next?

Why do men always give an answer, any answer, even if the truth is they don't know the answer? Why do little kids ask so many goddamn questions? Especially ones we can't answer, like 'Why are grown-ups always in a hurry?' Why do so many women have to go around being beautiful in so many different ways? Why do people still think spies are sexy, even though we all know they are lying, cheating scum?

In a dream the other night, my father was alive and well--why did that dream make me cry? Why can't I get the folding done? When will I finally make an appointment with a doctor, a dentist and/or my accountant? Isn't it time to start planning for retirement?

Why does rolling in the grass make one itchy?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend in the Highlands: The Top 10

1) Awesomest View:
Lush alpine valleys, dark wooden farmhouses and flowery meadows, seen from a high trail. All four of us went "Wah...."

2) Greatest Sudden Terror:
Being mobbed by a herd of cows, bearing menacingly down on us at 2 MPH!

3) Much Breathless Fun:
Rubberball bouncing around on the trampoline with Adinah and V.

4) Most Sisyphean Struggle:
Trying to stay awake after 9:30 pm, after a full day of hiking, swimming and schnitzel snorting.

5) Most Impressive Herbivore:
The pit-bull sized bunny behind our hotel.

6) Best Meal:
Trout with a hash brown potato crust and a mixed salad.

7) From Screaming to Snoring, V.'s Best Time after being Loaded into the Baby Backpack:
2.5 minutes.

8) Longest Continuous Improvised Fairy Tale told by Adinah, while Hiking, Without Pausing for a Breath:
25 minutes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vienna Past/Perfect #85

I don't know exactly why I derive so much pleasure from looking at old-ass photographs of this creaky-ass old city, and then trekking around trying to re-create them. But I have always been entranced by images, and old ones--especially of streets and corners I know--often strike me as disorienting, revelatory, telling.

I love this picture of a gas station which could have only been built in 1950 or 2372 A.D. After seeing it, I was positive I would find this street empty today. But when I arrived on the spot in question, I found...a gas station. From Jetsons modernism to corporate minimalism in a mere 58 years. We really do live in interesting times.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

skin again

Most of the books we've read about it say kids don't really notice skin color until the age of five or so. And Adinah is five.

* * *

One of my secondary missions on my recent blitz trip to New York was to find some "magazines about black princesses," which was a request from Adinah and Anette. If such magazines exist, I didn't find 'em at the two large magazine stores I visited, so I got Adinah some books about powerful black girls instead. One of them, Skin Again, by bell hooks, is really more about prejudice and racism in the abstract. But I hesitated before buying it. Adinah's aware that people have different colors, but she doesn't yet know that some poo poo heads don't like people of another color. Put another way, we've talked about race, but not about racism.

I wonder when we should have that conversation.

Naturally, I'm afraid of it. Five is a tender age. What if it breaks Adinah's heart to find out just how hateful and stupid human beings can be?

She's a curious kid, though, and she's starting to ask questions. She went to a birthday party recently with her Ethiopian friend Teresa, and a couple of the other girls there laughed at them because they both have brown skin. Adinah didn't understand why anyone would laugh about brown skin.

She's mentioned it several times since then. And both Anette and I have, perhaps presumptuously, understood her to be asking a question. I told her that maybe those girls laughed because they've never seen little brown girls before. Which, in Vienna, may be true. (Of course, what I really want to say to Adinah is, 'Tell me those girls' names, and I will open up a can of whup-ass on the rednecks what raised 'em.)

But that's not even close to the whole answer to the question Adinah is asking me.

As is too often the case, I get some small inspiration from...Hollywood. I only just recently saw To Kill a Mockingbird. And when his daughter asks Atticus Finch, world's best father and all-around-too-good-to-be-true-hero, a similar question about racism, Atticus says something like, "There's a lot of bad things in the world, Scout. I wish I could protect you from all of them, but I can't."

I know it's not a perfect answer, but maybe that'll have to do for now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

(a movie about) that day

Last night, after putting the kids in bed, I watched United 93, the Paul Greengrass film about the only hijacked plane which didn't hit its target on September 11th. I'd heard it was good, I'd gotten a copy, but still I had waited until I thought I was ready to see it. Maybe I miscalculated.

Anette is out of town, and even though I was completely exhausted from chasing V. and Adinah around by myself all day, and even though I was drinking a tall boy to steady my nerves, I was twitching five minutes into the movie. After 18 minutes, I paused United 93 to catch my breath and try to stop shaking. I paused it again after 29 minutes, and then again every seven to ten minutes. It wasn't exactly suspense or excitement, but reliving the shock of that day was almost too much.

Since 2001, wherever I am in the world, and whoever I'm talking to, if the subject of 9/11 comes up, it's always the other person who's in a rush to say where they were the minute they heard what had happened in New York City. Oftentimes they say, 'I saw it happen!' and what they mean is that they saw it live on TV. But I really did hear those two booms. I really was on Pitt street on the Lower East Side on that beautiful fall morning when I looked half a mile south and saw a hole in the World Trade Center. I saw it all.

I guess it left a hole in me too.


Yeah, well that was almost seven years ago.

In the apocalyptic, ohmygod days and weeks after September 11th, I decided I wanted to live. To go forward somehow. I decided I wanted to have a kid. One of the shittiest Presidents we've ever had got us into even more trouble. We went to Ethiopia and met Adinah. Then we moved to Vienna, and I wasn't sorry to leave behind a country that would re-elect a shitty President. And now I miss America, but I live in Europe, and I have a foster daughter too and I work for an NGO and help refugees because I want to live and embrace life.

I wonder where I would be if that day never happened.

Friday, July 11, 2008

the Male urge

As I have occasionally noted, the Viennese don't win any blue ribbons for their manners on the street and in the subway. Old people scowl at you if you jaywalk, and I've had middle aged hausfraus scold me for allowing V. to stand on a subway station bench (with her filthy shoes!) One could chalk it up to cultural differences--god knows, after living in New York City for eighteen years, I have my own idears about how people should be civil to each other. But because this is a blog (and I'll rant if I want to), I prefer to suggest that this city is rife with sourpusses, old cunts (both male and female) and members of the Nazi Party (both former and current.)

Bad manners can't account for some of what I've encountered over the last twenty-four hours, though. It must be something in the water. Or just something in men.

At the office, our security guard got into a Code Red shouting match with the nephew of one of our refugee clients. In the playground, a drunken looneybird lurched at two different African kids before settling into a nice abusive tirade against a woman who apparently knew him. But the topper was the man on the 14A bus.

We were nearing my stop when I became aware of a couple of older women standing next to me and shifting around uncomfortably. I looked up to see a youngish man sitting across from a very small young woman, with two empty seats between them. The man had his feet up in one of the empty seats. There was a murmur in the air. I thought it might be good to make the point to the guy that someone else might like to sit in that seat.

So I stood up and crossed the aisle, looked down at him and his feet, and said "Excuse me."


I said it twice more, then looked at the seat and back at him, and said, "May I?"

He stared straight ahead and said nothing. He was pinkish, possibly high, and his expression looked like something which had been honed in schoolyards, then barrooms, then jail.

"Wow," I said sarcastically, to myself and those around us. Then I moved to the door, and got ready to get off the bus.

As I turned around and looked back at him, he was looking over at the tiny young woman across from him and pointing out the window. Get out, he was saying.

She did.

When I got off the bus, I was almost shaking with rage.

I knew that this mad asshole would be attacking someone or being attacked in a matter of minutes, somewhere down the line. I told myself it would have been beyond stoopid for me to fuck with the guy. Still, I felt this fury, and I felt insulted to my bones.

I've always been like that. Whenever I see a boy or a man act that monstrously, I see red. And I think monstrous things (...hmmm, my house keys shoved through his--hmm, yes that would do it....)

Is this just the way men are? Can we really become beasts in a matter of seconds? I wonder.

The fact is that I didn't do anything stupid yesterday morning when I encountered this poopoo head. What troubles me is that I'm not sure if I was smart or merely cowardly. And what troubles me more is that the incident still made me mad enough to spit fire.

Is it just me, or is this a guy thing?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

straight lines, clean edges

Back in Vienna, back at work, and tonight, back at the English Cinema Haydn (to see Hancock.) Back in my comfortable little ratpath. Everything where it should be, my desk in order, everyone at home and at the job seemingly satisfied with my performance. I place.

Which feels...funny. For the last four months, I was on a half-time schedule at work and a half-time schedule as a papa. So in the living room and at the office, everything felt half-done, hurried, hectic. Now after three full days back at the job, I feel like I'm back on top of that game (thank gawd.)

And everyone at home appears to be okay with me being a working guy and not being around so much.

So why do I feel out of step? Why do I feel a little too light on my feet now that I finally have a night off for myself?

Anette was recently reading a book by an American mom, about how American moms do everything for their kids, and then still feel like bad, neglectful parents. I got pretty smug when she told me about it. But now I think I can understand that conflict. As a father, one spends so much time, in one way or another, trying to keep the train on its tracks. Picking up one kid at kindergarten, taking the other one to meet her biological mother. Working a job to pay the bills, picking up the Legos, chopping the vegetables, changing the sheets. I rarely get everything done, so when I do it feels like I must have missed something. Or forgotten to tell Adinah or Anette or V. how much I love them.

Anette is more tireless, and much better at running the trains. I know I've never spent so much time thinking about other people and what I need to do for them. In the first 35 years of my life, I knew love and family was important to me. But I still acted, talked, thought, worked and played for myself. I was Team Blashill.

Now I play for Team Blashill-Baldauf. I guess that still startles me.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sardinia, part 2

Five years ago, I couldn't have told you where Sardinia was, let alone why Europeans go all dreamy when they talk about it. Today I can say, definitively, that Sardinia is a big, hot-ass island off the coast of Italy, with beautiful beaches and an awful lot of German tourists.

Anette and Adinah and V. and I slept in a camper and cooked outside almost every night in a camping village by the sea. Adinah zipped in and out of the water like a flying fish and loved it, but V. never went all the way in--maybe something about the movement of the waves or the vastness of the ocean gives a 20-month-old kid the creeps. When we tried dipping her in the water, she just screamed. But she did have a lot of fun running around nekkid.

My favorite moment may have been wading into the waves with Adinah, turning away from her for a moment, then turning back to see her upside down in a small breaker, just two little crazy legs swirling around in a washing machine of surf. She was laughing when she came up and she instantly ran off to tell everyone else about it.

No. My favorite part was the routine: swimming twice a day, eating fresh salad and white peaches, actually reading after the kids had gone down in the evening, and then sleeping like a stone myself.

Wait, no. My really favorite thing was the Dr. Who pinball machine at the cantina, and the day I racked up the second-highest score ever, thus earning the title of both Best Time Lord and Loop Champion, and then put my name up in lights on the LED display of the machine!

Probably better than all of that was the fact that for almost ten days, I didn't think about my job, or e-mails, or the future of the publishing industry, or my phone, or the shitty weather in Vienna, or where we're going to be living in two years, or Barack Obama, or this blog. I, unplugged.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008