Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wire @ Fluc

About thirty years ago, Wire changed my life. I suppose they started as an English punk band, but the first record by them that I heard was their third and artiest, 154. It was the the strangest music I had ever heard. After their amazing first three records, they entered into a long period of mannered suckieness, before finally returning several years ago as pissed-off old punks. I saw them last night at my favorite club here in Wienertown, and it was great but weird. Their new songs all sound like the very first songs they wrote and recorded. And most of the old songs they played were from that first fully shredding masterpiece, Pink Flag. It's like they've decided, after thirty years, that they were right the first time. Sort of inspiring.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

couple of photos from the weekend

Who do we want our children to become? Brain surgeons? Presidents? DJs?

What do we hope and pray they will avoid? Drugs? Scientology? A deep-seated fascination with trains, and train schedules?

I have two snapshots in my head from last Sunday:

One: After a pretty but very windy hike, we ended up (again!) in the Austrian-Slovakian border town of Hainburg, with two hours to kill before our train back to Vienna. So we went to the town Cultural Museum and—whoa!—the exhibition was all old synthesizers, Theremins and “Klang Maschine”! I was in heaven, looking at all these scuffed up, ridiculous boxes, from an Ondes Martinet to a Mellotron, which have enlivened the musical stylings of everyone from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Daft Punk. But I felt a stir of pleasure when Adinah and her friend Teresa grabbed a set of headphones and started twiddling the knobs of a homemade LFO oscillator. ‘She’s making a beat!’ I thought, beaming with pride.
How cool would it be if my daughter became the kind of musician that I love (and wanted to be myself?)

Two: Once we were back in Vienna, Anette, Adinah, V., and I clambered aboard the last streetcar home. But we had to step around three inebriated punks and their gigantic, dirty dogs. One of the pink Mohicans was sprawled across the floor of the train. Then, with much drunken bellowing and stumbling, they all got off. I don’t know if the girls even noticed them, but Anette and I did.
Once we were back home, in the kitchen and making dinner, she mentioned it, and said she hopes neither of our girls ends up like those punks.
I flashed back on my own dyed blue-black, occasionally inebriated days, and thought, ‘Gee, there’s a lot worse things that could happen to our daughters.’ But I took her point.

Mind you, these are just snapshots. And all I have is more questions.

How can you really steer your kids the right way? Can you steer them at all?

I distrust parents who push their kids, and project their own ambitions onto their children. (But I do the same thing.) I’m skeptical that we can groom them to be model citizens, or prevent them from becoming doctors or lawyers.


Look, here’s what I want:
1) I want my girls to like themselves.
2) I want them to be okay with being alone (sometimes.)
3) I want them to feel like they can do (almost) anything.
4) I hope they can laugh (at themselves, too.)
5) I hope they will try to do the right thing. Maybe I can teach them something about this, though I may come up short on offering Standard Operating Procedures.
6) I hope they will learn to be kind, be kind, be kind.

Other than that, I have no expectations. Honest.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Late Night, Feeling Spooky Top Ten

1) "Mockingbird" by Barclay James Harvest

2) "Wandering Star" by Portishead

3) "I'll take Care of You" by Bobby 'Blue' Bland

4) Consumed by Plastikman

5) "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" by Krzysztof Penderecki

6) "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding

7) "Forgiveness" by Patty Griffin

8) "Last Harbour" by American Music Club

9) "Same" by Smith and Mighty featuring Tammy Payne

10) "Tubular Bells" (single edit) by Michael Oldfield

11) "Space Oddity" by David Bowie

12) "My Autumn's Done Come" by Lee Hazlewood

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Ten Reasons I Didn't Blog Last Night, er, Week

1) I was too tired.

2) I was uncertain about my qualifications to comment upon the human condition.

3) I was in the kitchen, sweeping up peas, bits of rice and small scraps of construction paper.

4) I was exhausted.

5) I had nothing more to add.

6) I'd had enough of staring into computer screens for the day.

7) I needed to watch an educational film on television.

8) I was playing pinball.

9) I was photographing Vienna junkspace.

10) I was beat.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

(The Last Part of this) Police Story (I Promise)

My friend J. brought this to my attention the other day. It appeared in the conservative, schlocky free subway paper Heute, and is clearly a response to the treatment J.'s friend Mike Brennan received at the hands of the Vienna Police. The repro's terrible here in my blog, but the cartoon shows Obama on a world tour, and ends with what he could probably expect in Vienna. Maybe there's more self-reflection (and criticism) in the Austrian soul than I had thought....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

{Another Part of (Another)} Police Story

(The Story so Far: A friend of a friend was attacked by some racist Vienna cops, and I'm a little disgusted about it....)

As in the US, this particular sort of police brutality has happened plenty of times before in Austria. The cops use racial profiling and they have a record of severely beating black men who are already in handcuffs or lying on the pavement. The difference here is that Austrian police continue to do these things without any apparent concern about oversight, let alone being caught. They have the open support of many politicians, particularly those of the loathsome Freedom Party, one of whom once told the newspapers, " If you see a black man in Vienna, he's a drug dealer."

A lot of Austrians, young and old, have a profound sense of entitlement, combined with a certain sort of nineteenth century obliviousness. Some claim to be baffled by the (American) concept of political correctness. Oftentimes, a claim like this is merely a prelude to a statement like, 'Well, you know, a lot of black people are drug dealers.' Friends of ours have actually said shit like this!

So when my colleague J. told our staff about how his friend got beat up by a gang of undercover cops who never bothered to identify themselves, it sparked some interesting discussions around the water cooler. J. is African-American too, and when he talks about racism or some other bullshit, his voice goes up half a notch; he is as baffled by Austrian ignorance as they say they are by American 'sensitivity'. J. told me a story about being on a city bus, and overhearing a man make a goddamn fool remark. The man probably assumed, like many Viennese, that J. doesn't speak or understand German, because he's black. Of course, J. does, and he did understand the hate speech the guy was slinging, so he looked over at him and said, in German, "You're an idiot."

The man, apparently unconcerned with being busted as a fucking racist, didn't blink. "You should address me with 'sie,' " he said. "Sie" is the more formal way of saying "you."

I laughed when J. told this story, especially at the way he screwed up his face to show his incomprehension of the guy. You would think that this asshole would understand that by calling him an idiot, J. was already dispensing with manners. But no. Austrians aren't always concerned about racism or police brutality, but they worry a lot about good manners.

One of the less funny things about all of this is that it could have easily been J. who was attacked by the Vienna police.

I worry about raising two black daughters in a place like this. Am I going to have to worry about Viennese policeman attacking Vivien when she's 17 years old?

The other night, I was watching tv, and I was dumbfounded by an almost perfect example of why Austrian police think they can assault black people without cause. As I was channel-surfing, I stumbled upon a broadcast of some sort of costume party banquet. (It may have been scenes from the Villacher Faschingsfest, a notoriously offensive event held in Carinthia, the provincial seat of power for the Freedom Party.) I watched a man flanked by two "Secret Service agents" take the stage to the tune of "Hail to the Chief." He began to speak German with a broad American accent and a squeaky (i.e. young and inexperienced) voice. He was obviously meant to be Obama. He was a white guy in blackface.

I started to float in a strange fog of confusion and disbelief. I was watching a minstrel show on Austrian television. I thought, 'What kind of people would allow this sort of 'entertainment'? (Answer: A people with nary a shred of understanding of black people or black history.) But I also thought, 'Is this maybe okay? Could an argument be made that this is a legitimate form of comedy?' Haven't American tv comics put on brown-face to imitate Middle Eastern people? (A: Yes, and I thought that was offensive too.)

And as I sat there staring at the pretty lights on the television screen, I came back to a question I've asked myself a few times before: How am I going to explain all of this to Adinah and V.?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

(Another) Police Story

A couple of weeks ago, J., one of the teachers I work with, came into the office with a story. Seems a friend of his, who teaches and coaches at the Vienna International School, was attacked on the subway here. He had been on his train and noticed several men staring at him. When he got off at his station, they jumped him. One of them literally jumped on Mike's back. They beat him pretty badly, then left him there. Luckily Mike's girlfriend had shown up to meet him, and she helped him to a hospital.

Guess what? They were undercover cops. They didn't tell Mike that. They later claimed they had mistaken him for a drug dealer. You see, Mike is black. It's possible the police mistook him for an African. Nope. Mike is African-American.


That morning, after the hospital doctors fixed him up and put him on crutches, Mike actually went in to work. He told his coworkers what had happened to him. They were outraged. They told him he had to file a complaint with the police. And, crucially, they insisted that Mike go to the American Embassy with his story. He did both.

Then a familiar chain of events unfolded. After complaints from the US Embassy and some press attention to the case, the police claimed that there had been no incident. [Curiously, they also claimed that there was no surveillance camera footage of the incident, even though there are cameras all over every U-Bahn station in the city.] Then the police claimed they had identified themselves, but Mike had resisted arrest. Now "police experts" are claiming that Mike's injuries may actually be from some earlier time in his life. Even though the doctors who treated him have said, nope, he suffered these injuries that day.

(To be continued)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Post-Traumatic Birthday Party Stress: Lessons Learned

1) Do Not Print Extra Party Invites
Or you will have extra party guests.

2) Do Not Assign the Distribution of Said Invites to your Six-Year-Old Daughter
Some invitations will never make it home to the prospective guests' parents. Which will necessitate a second round of invitations, corroborations and desperate pleas, by phone, e-mail and fax.

3) Do Not Invite Too Many Kids
Ten is too many. Unless they bring their mommies. And/or parole officers.

4) Boys are Different from Girls
They hit each other. They dogpile each other. They start pillow fights and will not stop until you take away all the pillows. Boys will push all of your buttons quicker and much more overtly. Do not strangle them.

5) Use Television as a Weapon, if Necessary
When the "playing" begins to resemble a scene from The Lord of the Flies, turn on the boob tube. They will mollify.

6) Arts and Crafts Activities Provide a Focus and Help Prevent Bloodshed
Maybe the Crips and Bloods should try making masks out of paper and string. Sort some things out.

7) Amidst the Chaos, Hug any Child who Asks for a Hug, No Questions Asked

8) Do Not Invite the Little Friends of the Little Sister of the Birthday Girl, just to be Considerate to the Little Sister
Plan a separate activity for them, off-site. Otherwise, you're throwing two parties in the same apartment.

9) Do Not Fly Solo
Make sure other adults are present. As eyewitnesses. Consider a ratio of one grown-up for every three ankle-biters.

10) Arrange for your Putzfrau to come the Day After