Friday, December 3, 2010

I'd Rather be Swimming



For two weekends in a row now, we've all bundled up and trudged over to the Briggitenau Hallenbad--that's German for big-ass public indoor pool and sauna complex. Sunday is warm water day, so the pool is not actually freezing. Last Sunday it was snowing outside--today, there's a blizzard--but in the Hallenbad, V. shrieks with laughter as she leaps over and over again into the kiddy pool.

It's somehow magical--the rippling blue-green water and the bright white spotlights that shine from under the waves. I never learned to swim, but I've always loved swimming pools. I love their scale, the stretch, the emptieness of the space (even when the place is crowded), and especially the deep relaxation and langour that comes from the experience, even if you, like me, just splash around like a blind seal pup.

But a warm indoor pool, on a cold winter day--this is even more perversely enjoyable. When I look out from the great glass walls of the Briggitenau Hallenbad and see the city covered in snow, I think, 'Suckers! What are all you idiots doing out in the cold? Come on in--the water's fine!'

Meanwhile, Adinah's doing underwater somersaults and trying to pull down my trunks. Anette--who knows how to swim--is over at the big people pool, doing 60 or 70 laps. And V.'s having a blast, splashing around in her water wings and Olympic goggles.

Afterwards, we all camp out underneath the hot showers. And I have discovered that it's really delicious to stand shirtless underneath a huge wall-mounted hair dryer. At home, I just towel-dry, but at the Hallenbad, I indulge--the hot air feels excellent on my skin....

Then we all bundle up again and slosh back over the Spittelau bridge. It's still cold and snowy outside, but I feel lighter on my feet. Quite pleasantly dazed and exhausted. Tonight, everyone will sleep like a stone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ops Meeting Notes, November 24

The Deputy Assistant for Hair Whipping and Dairy Product Consumption begins the meeting by noting that she will require disbursement of additional funds (€ 1) for the upcoming Charismatic Transportation project (A.K.A the Field Trip.)

The Managing Director and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee thanks the Deputy Assistant for her feedback and affirms that an R & D team will look into the matter. She then asks for updates from each unit.

The Vice Chair for Fried Foods and Belated Laundry Folding begins by noting some extant confusion in his department regarding use of the Cast Iron Pans. Is it the smaller one which is only for roasting, and if so, will the Managing Director please define "roasting"?
He also reports that Bed Sheet Replacement and Sanitation was completed at approximately 17:20 Sunday evening.

The Junior President in Charge of Kitty Litter and Chortling notes that, as the Deputy Assistant has yet to return her balloon, the Deputy Assistant will henceforth be referred to as "caca." Or possibly "lulu."

The Deputy Assistant registers an objection to this comment.

The Junior President continues, noting that the Second Undersecretary for Rodent Removal has been bathing in the toilet again.

The Second Undersecretary affirms this last, and adds that any and all household entities resembling mice--including shoestrings, wet sponges and the feet of the Junior President--have been warned to get out of town or face immediate Mexican drug cartel-style retribution.

Duly noted.

The Managing Director and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee reports that the Holiday Celebration (i.e. Thanksgiving) will be downsized due to the absence of most of the usual suspects in the greater Vienna area.
She adds that "roasting" shall consist of, but not be limited to, preparation of onions, Grieskoch and pasta re-heats. She further notes all use of said pan is predicated on a mandatory and subsequent hydration process (i.e. "soaking.)
In addition, The Managing Director reports that immediate action is required on the Kitchen and Bathroom Sink Washer Replacement project, the Cellar Clearance and Moldy Furniture Destruction Initiative and the immanent Prague Visitation.

The Vice Chair inquires as to whether immediate action may be postponed until tonight after the Simpsons?

Meeting adjourns.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Needs versus Wants


Need: Chips and salsa
Want: Nachos

Need: Motorhead-Ace of Spades
Want: Deep Purple-Who Do We Think We Are

Need: Bic Medium Ball Point pens (black or blue)
Want: a laptop

Need: my family
Want: my family in good spirits

Need: Robert De Niro
Want: George Clooney

Need: a hot bath every once in a while
Want: Sauna Night with Anette

Need: a public library
Want: Facebook, Pirate Bay, Demonoid, all blogs

Need: long underwear
Want: my fuzzy gray pimp coat

Need: coffee
Mindless Self-Indulgence: ginger tea

Need: Barack Obama
Want: a hero

Monday, November 15, 2010

My First Therapist

Ouch.

That hurt a little.

* * *

So Anette and I decided to go see a family therapist. We thought it might help ease the chaos in our house, maybe help us avoid some of those special Shouting moments.

So we get to the place on the appointed day, and we meet the good doctor. She talks to the kids for six or seven minutes, and talks to Anette and I for more than an hour. At the end of it, she says, “The kids are fine.” Then she looks at me and says, “But you, I want to talk to.”

Eeep.

I flashed on a close-up of Anthony Hopkins, wearing that cute mask, in The Silence of the Lambs. I never actually thought of myself as a fruitcake, but what the hey, everyday’s a journey, right?

But the doctor, who I’ll call Frau M., said some sensible things. She actually said some of the same things I’ve been saying about our family dynamic for awhile now. Anette smirked a couple of times and said to me, “You like her, don’t you?”

Still, the idea of seeing a shrink was a bit, um, daunting. Scary. I said as much. The doc put on her best quizzical face and said, “Why scary?”

“Well, you want me to talk about some personal stuff,” I replied, “And I don’t even know you, do I?”

I agreed to try it. I mean, back in the day when I interviewed that French performance artist who broadcasts her own plastic surgery operations, and she asked me to eat foie gras with her, I did it, didn’t I? Would this really be any different, any more scary, any more icky-squishy? No.

I went back to her office, alone, the other night. We had a very expensive 85-minute conversation. It was sort of exhausting.

But I think it was also…good.

We started off talking about some of the challenges of parenthood, then she took me back, back, farther back to my own childhood, and some of my challenges in those days. As we talked, she found something that happened to me—a little thing, honestly—and she started turning it over in her hands. Or, really, asking me to turn it over in my head. She asked me to go back in time and talk to my seven-year old self, to help him. That was cool. Because I could do that, you know? It was easy for me to be a dad, big brother, hero--whatever—to that kid, because I’m all grown up now. I’m a man.

Then she brought it all back around to me trying to deal with V. in a better way. Now I think I can do that too.

And it made me think about my Dad and my Mom and Adinah and my life in a different way too.

Today, I went back to work, and met the usual mix of good, bad and ugly. But I felt like Mr. Clint Eastwood—cool, glacially chilled, unmoved by both nonsense and aggression.

No. That was a cheap movie metaphor. Here’s a better one. I actually felt more like that guy in Office Space, who gets stuck in a psychiatrist-induced trance, and goes to work not giving a fuck. And everything is just No Big Deal, my friend. No problem, hey that’s okay, sure, that sounds…fine.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Halloween and All Saints (Holi)Day 2010 Top Ten



(not necessarily in order of enjoyamability)

1) Giggling hysterically as me and four little girls made two videos at Jib Jab.com: one with V. as a rappin' Dracula and me as a very green Frankenstein; the other with me and the little girls as, uh, Chippendales dancers. (Is that wrong?)

2) Walking through the enormous Zentral Friedhof (Central Cemetary), past other tourists and mourning Serbian families, on a brilliant autumn morning.

3) Walking down from Leopoldsberg to Nussdorf, looking through crimson and golden leaves, across rolling hills and vineyards, at Vienna laid out below us, nice and cozy-like.

4) An apparently limitless stream of bad-good and bad-bad Drive-In Sci Fi flicks uploaded at Demonoid by a mysterious schmaltz hound named Bippy Dog. It has included amazing stuff, like The Navy Versus the Night Monsters, Daughter of Horror and The Brainiac.

5) Laughing, holding hands with and just watching V., as she comes into her own. She is more confident, articulate (with actual words), and well, happier, I think.

6) Donning the Monkey costume (full-body fuzz, with an enormous cartoonish head) for the first party I've been to in a long, long time.

7) Reveling in Hot Blood's classic 1976 album Disco Dracula, which includes both "Soul Dracula" and "Baby Frankie Stein," which sound like Barry White with fangs, in a soft-core porno film.

8) Noticing that Adinah is still wearing her costume: sweat pants and a shirt printed with the image of a skeleton. Now it's her pajamas.

9) "Arguing" with Jan about whether or not zombies are monsters. (Of course they are, just like Sharon Angle and British Petroleum.)

10) Fondly remembering Booberry and Chocula.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here's the second half of my Sueddeutsche Zeitung article on underground culture and Austin Texas. It was published on Saturday, Oktober 16.

Searching for that Lost Cool Something

One of our greatest living philosophers, Grandpa Simpson, once said, "I used to be 'with it', but then they changed what 'it' was. Now what I'm with isn't 'it', and what's 'it' seems weird and scary." Maybe only the jugendlich understand ‘it.’ So back in Vienna, which is where I call ‘home’ these days, I asked a fifteen-year-old friend how he finds out about new music. His words were 2010, but his method: classic. “Usually my friends give me a link.”

I asked the same of a colleague’s fourteen-year-old son, who has recently discovered punk rock in the recordings of Green Day. He told her that he finds out about bands from concert posters and handbills, and from the opening bands at those concerts. Sounds a lot like my methods of thirty years ago.

On the other hand, my Austin friends, being older Texans and therefore contrary, roundly dispute the notion that the underground is dead. “Bullshit!” says Davy Jones, guitarist for the Hickoids, Austin’s oldest country punk band. “Hickoids are known by a tiny group of folks, but sales and the nature of the material make it Underground, Cult, Counterculture, whatever you wanna call it today. It's not successful in any normal business sense of the word- it’s so niche.”

Another friend, who I once knew as Control Rat X, drops some very old school science on me. “What has been done will be done again,” he says. “There is nothing new under the sun." Then he tells me he’s quoting from Ecclesiastes 1:9-14. Gee, I always thought it was a record critic who had said that.

On a late summer afternoon, downtown Austin is like the Velvet Underground—all white light and white heat. Unlike the centers of some US cities, this part of town has never been successfully rehabilitated, and the lower blocks of Congress Avenue are a bit shabby. But one afternoon, as I stumble along the Avenue in the blinding, skin-searing heat, I remember to tip my hat when I pass number 316. This is the former site of the Vulcan Gas Company, a legendary sixties club which may be the true birthplace of psychedelic music, since it was the preferred haunt of the notorious Texas acid rock group, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Back then, everyone played at The Vulcan when they passed through Austin, from John Lee Hooker and Moby Grape to, well, the Velvet Underground. Today, 316 Congress Avenue is a Patagonia sporting goods and outdoor apparel super store.

The Armadillo World Headquarters is now a parking lot, and for the week that I’m in Austin, I involuntarily turn my head towards it every time I pass, searching for some trace of the first rock club I ever entered. The Armadillo was an ugly hangar with bad acoustics, great nachos and a crowd that ranged from cosmic cowboys and pink-haired punks to state politicians and off-duty policemen. I remember seeing Devo there in 1980, and goggling at one of the club’s murals, which depicted an armadillo bursting out of the chest of BB King. Then and now, the Armadillo would meet almost any standard definition of an underground club, and that’s how I remember it. But it wasn’t underground at all—Time magazine and Rolling Stone both wrote it up at the time. In fact, Frank Zappa recorded a live album called Bongo Fury there. This 1975 document of what I thought was an underground scene was distributed to the world by…Warner Bros. Records. When I look at that parking lot today, I think it may be time to revise our definitions of underground.

My host in Austin is my old friend Rich, who was also once the drummer for the Kamikaze Refrigerators. A few hours before I leave town, I am puttering around in Rich’s immaculately renovated, slightly kitschy nineteen-fifties house. Rich is in the next room working. Then I hear music. It has the unhinged tone of the Pixies, and all the leather mask perversity of Lubricated Goat. With a dash of Devo. I like this music. “What is this?” I ask Rich.

“Oh, it’s Adult Rodeo,” he shrugs. “Little local band who was playing around here a few years ago.”

Adult Rodeo aren’t the new Radiohead, but they sound weird and fresh. I believe I have made a discovery.

I guess I can leave Austin now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I recently published my first piece in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a well-respected newspaper out of Munich. It ran in Deutsch, after having been translated by one of their best people. This is the first half of the story in English. It's about my last trip to Austin, my hometown. I'll post the second half on Thursday. I hope you like it.

Searching for that Lost Cool Something

The morning after I land in Austin, Texas, I borrow a bike and set off in search of Krautrock. I’ve read that Amon Düül II made some interesting disco jams in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and if there’s one place in the continental US where one can find obscure, thirty-year-old, semi-funky German rock, it’s at Waterloo Records.

And of course, I do find some Amon Düül II, though it’s not the CD I wanted. But then a funny thing happens. I’m looking at a huge wall of CDs by Austin singers and bands. Legendary Texas concert posters hang in various other corners of the store. Suddenly I feel like I’m in a museum. Austin has become a theme park of Cool. It’s Disneyland with tattoos and a wallet chain, a cultural amusement zone. It’s a brand—it’s Underground Town.

I grew up in Austin, one of the most notorious crucibles of cool in the USA. By fifteen, I was acting world-weary because I was listening to Roxy Music. By nineteen, I had discovered punk rock and new wave in Austin clubs. In local record stores, I mined progressively lesser known music, and the cults surrounding bands like Big Star. I learned you have to do some work to find the best music and art. None of this is true today. If anything interesting happens in a music club anywhere in the world tonight, it will be on YouTube tomorrow. MP3 blogs, file-sharing sites like Demonoid, Facebook and MySpace--these are only the best-known ways in which people find out about the latest, coolest thing. These days, unusual, obscure or bizarre music is just a mouse click away. There is no longer any such thing as a local ‘scene’ or underground music.

Or is there? As it happens, neither live music clubs nor independent record stores have disappeared from the planet, though they do all have websites now. Nearly fifty years ago, an inveterate weirdo named Frank Zappa suggested that the “mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground.” So I have returned to Austin to test this perfectly reasonable definition of ‘underground’ (I also want a decent plate of nachos.) I have found a flea market for locally-made electronic instruments like the Autonomous Bassline Generator, and a fourteen piece, orchestral pop group called Mother Falcon, playing at a club called Mohawk.

I’m not looking for the next Nirvana in Austin. Underground scenes are exciting because they shock, then energize you with the thrill of discovery, the feeling that you have come upon something astonishing and utterly unprecedented. Something you can call your own. It’s this sense of discovery I mean to investigate. Even if cool underground stuff “comes” to you from an MP3 blog like Mutant Sounds or Illegal Smoking Robot, is it still possible to discover something fantastic on your own, maybe even in your own home town?

Torchy’s Tacos may be the coolest breakfast taco stand in town. The counter help—whether they are African American, Caucasian, male or female—are uniformly covered with tattoos and swathed in black. The food is innovative, though I’m initially hesitant to try the Dirty Sanchez, or the Fried Avocado Taco.

Handbills and stickers for various species of loud music are strewn around Torchy’s, and I find myself wondering if the girl taking our order knows that the friend I’m here with was once in a local band that did a mean folk-punk Kiss cover. What sort of subterranean streams does she swim in after the sun goes down? It doesn’t matter.

A little more than a year ago, the English artist and amateur sociologist Matt Stokes arrived in Austin to create a conceptual art piece and exhibition about underground music communities. I know because I wrote one of the essays about Austin punk which appeared in the exhibition catalog. His project was called These are the Days, and among other things, Stokes juxtaposed the Austin hardcore punk scene of the early nineteen-eighties with the gutter punk scene here in the present day. The catalog for the show blended photographs from then and now, and it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. In 1983 and in 2008, punks in Austin were tough, cool, sweaty, and committed to an idea, a scene. Perhaps the Texas punk bands of 2008 have more beards. They look like the counter help at Torchy’s. And they look one hundred percent, for real, straight-up underground.

Just above the hole which was once known as Voltaire’s Basement, sits a new coffee shop. The new place is called Halcyon. It’s clean and brightly lit. It has a walk-in humidor. Something about it rings a bell, so I stop there. Voltaire’s was a legendary firetrap, as well as the site of very crazy and wonderful shows by bands like the Dicks and the Butthole Surfers. Halcyon was the name of the shaggy commune where I lived during college. Now one obscure name is transposed onto the site of a dead underground scene. It’s as if all the old words and dreams are still in circulation, only perched at different locations.

As I sip my Thai iced coffee there at Halcyon, I ask the bartender if he knows his basement was once a great punk rock club.

“Oh yeah,” he lies. “I heard about that. What was our Basement like back then?”

“It was fucked up,” I laugh.

“It still is!” he says.

Monday, October 25, 2010

one night at the book store

“Open 24 hours” is not a phrase uttered lightly in Vienna. In fact, it’s not uttered at all. Most of the stores, boutiques, and trading posts here shut down by 6 or 7. But as a patriotic American, I still have the right to confuse shopping for entertainment. So last night at 7:30 pm, I really only had one choice: the Thalia.at superstore at Landstrasse. It’s Borders for Wieners.

Does anyone go to bookstores anymore? I can now report that yes, they do, especially when there isn’t anything else to do. Last night I was just another clod who was shuffling around, gathering up a bunch of books I had no intention of buying, just so I could indulge in a little “late-night” libro-philia. The tables, chairs and banquettes were mostly occupied, largely by people who were awake.

I plopped down with six items: Sebastiao Salgado’s Africa (beautiful, astonishing but ultimately clichéd black and white photographs of the Continent); a coffee-table book about cathedrals (did I not mention I am addicted to big picture books?); a smaller book about a Viennese movie poster artist who was working in the forties and fifties (nice local color); a black and white graphic novel about Stu Sutcliffe (who was he again? A fifth Beatle, right? Wait, this is in German!); a gargantuan new Taschen book of vintage funk and soul album covers (uh-oh, there goes thirty Euros!); and another graphic novel called The Night Bookmobile.

After a few pages of the Taschen book of funk and soul art, I knew I would have to possess it. The Night Bookmobile, on the other hand, looked sort of amateurish, and the author’s name--Audrey Niffenegger—meant nothing to me. The title is what put the hook in me. ‘Bookmobile?’ I thought. ‘That’s a phrase I haven’t heard in—oh--forty-five years.’

CAUTION: Middle-Aged Jaunt down Memory Lane to Follow! When I was seven, the Bookmobile kicked ass! The Public Library in my town had lots of branches, but it also had a book-filled Winnebago that drove around then laid anchor in various supermarket parking lots. It didn’t really have a lot of stuff in it, and looking back, I’m sure it was the same things I could have gotten at the smaller libraries. But there was something so cool about climbing up into a big recreational vehicle full of copies of Charlottes’ Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and those Alfred Hitchcock mystery stories for boys. Anyway….

So, The Night Bookmobile turned out to be a great, though slightly macabre, sorta sad book. A very nice story actually. I won’t ruin it for you. But it’s about a woman who loves to read. And after reading it, as I left the superstore and started back down the stairs to the subway trains, I felt all gooey inside. I’m really too young to feel nostalgic, but I miss books a little.

Now I live in Screen World. I’m looking at screens all day: my computer at work, my computer at home, my other computer at home, my wife’s computer, the tv screen, the screen in the u-Bahn station, the screen in the U-Bahn train. In New York, of course, one may watch tv in the back of a taxi now. Whoo-hoo. And the thing is, Screen World is sort of cold.

But a good book? Whoa, that is hot stuff. It’s really delicious to luxuriate in a long, totally fascinating history book (or novel or biography) by a writer who not only has style but really knows her or his shit. Books don’t have emoticons. Books have complete sentences. Many of them avoid slang! No one ever writes ROFL in a book.

I’m going to read one now. After I finish this post. And check Facebook. And send that e-mail.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Top Nine Signs that you are Watching an Inferior Rock Documentary



1) Neither the difficult singer nor the brilliant but deranged bass player are interviewed for the film.

2) A doughy white guy in his thirties, identified only as an "expert" is interviewed in the film.

3) The film includes an archival clip you have seen in another rock documentary.

4) As the narrator begins mumbling, in a British accent, about a pivotal album, the director cuts to close-up shots of hands loading a reel-to-reel tape machine, and the tape moving through the gates.

5) A majority of people interviewed for the film are music critics.

6) Men are interviewed in offices, women in kitchens.

7) Or, women aren't interviewed for the film at all.

8) The music featured in the documentary is not by the band featured in the documentary. Because the producers didn't pay mechanical royalties to use the music. (Check out a few Beatles or Elvis documentaries or this one, and you'll see what I mean.)

9) The band featured in the film is Pearl Jam or the Smashing Pumpkins.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boogie Fever

The ballet they were dancing at the Staatsoper tonight was called Onegin. I went in on a lark. Based on Puschkin, music by Tchaikovsky, okay, whatever. One standing room ticket: € 4.

Here’s the plot: A bookish Hottie gets her bloomers in a rustle over this gloomy Gus who thinks he is all of that and a turkey sandwich. He also wears a cape like Dr. Acula, and comes out of her mirror one evening so they can do the Hustle. Then the babe and Gus and her sister and the sister’s boyfriend go to a big ball and Gus reverts to form. Stuff gets said, jealousies inflamed, then suddenly—Duel time. Long story short: Gus is a real prick (plus now a killer) and even though the Hottie meets a nice Rear Admiral (or something), she still wants to kiss him one more time. Which she does. Then she tells him to get the hell out of her boudoir. Curtain.

I liked it a lot.

Really, what have I been doing, paying good folding money to see garbage movies when I could have been spending a night at the Oper for a few Euros?

Watching Onegin, I got all choked up about the cruelty of passion, and the, uhhh, futility of bad love. I thought I'd just stay for an hour then leave. But I stayed for the whole damn show because I wanted to see that Hottie take the trash out.

I thought I didn't like ballet. Of course, I'd never seen one, but I was positive this wasn't my bag. It turns out I like the way they stand on their pointy little toes! I like the soft "clack!" sound of twenty feet hitting the stage at the same time! And that orchestra, sawing away in the pit, that's okay too!

What a dope I've been. This means I'll never have to see another Kate Hudson movie.

victory!

Here's one weasely excuse for not writing Euro Like Me often enough lately: my first German language newspaper story! Sort of. I wrote this article in English and the nice people at the South German translated it for me. Maybe I will get to do it again, we'll see.

Anyway it's about being cool and underground, neither of which I know much about, but it's also about Austin, Texas, my hometown. I'll try to post the English text a bit later.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hosencheißer



Well, the Viennese voted yesterday. The Mayor gets to keep his job, but that's the only good news. The real winner was Hans Christian Strache and the anti-immigration, Nazi-apologist Freedom Party (FPO). They ran a campaign of hate, insisting, among other lies, that the other parties would institute mandatory headscarves for women (!) The FPO gained ground in the last election largely because Austria has given 16-year-olds the right to vote, and lots of these little pantshitters cast their ballots for Strache. Yesterday the FPO again made frightening gains, especially with "lesser-educated" male Wieners.

Assholes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Real Ring-Tail-Tooter



Gawd, that was a tough month. Or as by brother in Montana would say, 'a hard pull.'

The last four weeks have been so crazy-exhausting-exciting-exhausting. But you wouldn't know about that, would you? Because I've been neglecting this blog again, haven't I?

Well, it started with a complete technological mutiny. Both of my computers stopped speaking to the Internet. Both my computers: kaput! My watch stopped. My phone quit. For one night, even the DVD player went on strike.

This lasted for a little more than three weeks. The turning point was the night I spilled beer on (and in) my laptop. After that, everything started working better. Honestly.

Then I got an assignment from a pretty respected German newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was great! but I wasn't entirely prepared for it. I had to scribble and circle around the subject for a bit, then write it one or two paragraphs at a time, on the subway to work, or in moments stolen from my real job: Father. So I was barely able to write anything else--not even Facebook updates.

Then Adinah did an end run around us and joined the Girl Scouts! And V. got a new kindergarten teacher (who is great, but isn't it always stressful to get to know someone new?) And I had a birthday--my forty-ninth. And even more important, preparations began for V.'s birthday. Then everyone in my department at work got sick just as my boss dumped several new projects in my lap. I had to teach, do all the administrative stuff that normally consumes my days, plus quite a few things that other people usually do, plus create and do a presentation for a Webinar, whatever that is.

Then we got a kitten. A small black and white love cat named Ada. She was rescued from a garbage can in Romania, and brought to a shelter in Vienna, which is where we met her, the little darling. She's the kind of cat who gets her motor running--like, purr city--then melts in your lap.

But when we brought Ada home we got a horrible surprise. Both Adinah and V. were terrified of her. Neither of them has ever lived with a cat (actually Deanie has, back in NYC, but she doesn't remember The Little Guy.) So the kids looked at Ada and saw, not a cuddly, fluffy little Hello Kitty! but a strange, stalking furry Creature, with claws!! On Morning Two, Ada sprung at Deanie's face to play with her hair extension. Adinah shrieked to break glass, fled to her room and hid in her bed.

Meals in the kitchen were impossible--neither girl would dangle their feet from their chairs, because they could see Ada down there, purring. We had to set V. on the breakfast table whenever the kitten said 'Mraow.'

We've always known that V. both loves and fears animals (monkeys, cows, dogs, pretty much everything except caterpillars, whom she does not fear.) But we had no idea Adinah would be so traumatized by a fuzzball from Romania.

So began the long and painful era in our history known as the Katzenintegrationsprojekt, or The Great Coming Together. Many tears were shed, many screams rang out, and several gasps were gasped.

But today, we can look back and say that we have made great strides. Both girls let Ada sit in their laps now. Yelping, hollering and hissy fits are down by 50%.

And it's been a week already.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

so long, so long

It’s official: we’re losing Rosa, our beloved first babysitter.

Okay, maybe she wasn’t the first-first. A few other folks have guest-starred as babysitters for our girls. But Rosa is the best.

I wasn’t sure what to think of her at first. She was soft-spoken and she was a radikal feminist grad student. On one of the first days she had Adinah, she asked if she could take our baby to a squat that was about to be raided by the police. I said, um, No. But I guess the important thing was that she asked.

Suffice to say, over the years, Adinah and V. have not been angels nor princesses every day they were with Miss Rosa. Adinah can bring the psychic pain, and V. has a pretty wicked backswing. Rosa has been super patient with them. She’s the polar opposite of Gloria, the heroine of that underappreciated Cassavettes film: she really likes kids, especially ours.

I don’t know what we’re gonna do without her. She has recommended a friend, and that’s a start. It’s such a precarious, maddening idea: leaving your children with another person, especially someone you don’t know so well. So many things, big and small, can go wrong. I’m sure we’ll find someone who’s okay. But I’m really going to miss talking medieval history and diapers with Rosa.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation in Vorarlberg Top Ten

(in no particular order)

1) After a week without her, waking up with Adinah and walking out of our cabin to see a fleet of hot-air balloons spread across the sky.

2) An actual conversation, two large goblets of red wine and some smooching with Anette on our hotel room terrace under a big bright moon.

3) Watching V swim by herself for the first time.

4) That juicy roast ox I ate last night.

5) All of us in one bed watching the Teletubbies dubbed in Dutch tonight before we put the kids to bed.

6) Listening to Adinah reading a book called Unicorn Wings in English.

7) Watching Roger Corman's Not of this Earth, for the very first time, on the train out here the other night. It must have cost forty-three dollars to make, and it's go great, and even sort of creepy.

8) Did I already mention that big goblet of red wine?

9) The view from on top of today's mountain.

10) Eight minutes alone in the sauna today.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Home Alone Sunday Listening


(pretty much in this order)

Alexei Rybnikov & Dmitry Rybnikov-Through The Thorns To Stars (Bootleg)(soundtrack to Humanoid Woman)

Ron Geesin - Electrosound

Buddy Holly - Not Fade Away (The Complete Studio Recordings and More)

Mike Oldfield-Tubular Bells

The Jimi Hendrix Experience-Axis Bold as Love

Joni Mitchell-Court and Spark

Various Artists-Hotel Costes Volume 4

Pentangle-Basket of Light

Sol Kaplan, Gerald Fried and Alexander Courage- Star Trek Original Television Soundtrack Volume Two: “The Doomsday Machine” and “Amok Time”

Grace Jones-Warm Leatherette

Captain Beefheart-Doc at the Radar Station

Elton John-Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Friday, August 13, 2010

Giggling in the Dark



My mind doesn’t always move in a straight line, so bear with me for a few paragraphs here.

As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been going to some Kino Unter den Sternen (cinema under the stars) nights lately. Vienna summers being what they are (i.e. colder than San Francisco and rainy as hell), the weather hasn’t permitted it every night, but so far this year I’ve seen The Damned, In a Lonely Place, In the Heat of the Night and just the other night, Goldfinger.

Okay, I’ve seen Goldfinger about a million times, but I had the night off, and I thought, ‘It’s spectacular, gotta be nice on a big screen, and really, how many warm nights do we have left this summer?’

Of course, I laffed my ass off at stuff I’d never noticed, and I got caught up in the sheer velocity of the sequences all over again. Halfway through my second large cold beer, I had what appeared to be a thought. Goldfinger should be a key text for me. The whole thing is besotted with gadgets—the laser, the super Aston Martin, the junkyard auto compactor, etc. It’s pure techno-filia, drenched with the belief that fancy machines will save your ass. (Or kill it.) But @t the end, Bond himself cannot defuse the Bomb—he’s baffled, and he even panics a bit. It’s a marvelous joke, because in the end, one realizes that even though the superspy likes all this hi-end junk, he’s actually pretty lo-tech. Bond is all fast fists and Martinis. Like me.

No. What I mean is I really identify with this teetering between techno-filia and techno-phobia. I love my computer. I just don’t understand it.

Anyway, this beer-battered epiphany of mine wasn’t the best thing that happened that night.

During the climactic Fort Knox sequence of the film, as everything is accelerating and it’s all pretty ridiculous but you don’t care because it’s so fun, I noticed two teenage girls sitting behind me. They were giggling in the dark, and talking non-stop, apparently about the movie. They were tickled pink. Maybe it was the first time they’d seen Goldfinger. Or any James Bond besides Daniel Craig. Or any film older than Lord of the Rings.

After the movie, I saw them spill out onto the path that leads to the street. They were still giggling as they ran over to pick up the schedule for the rest of this film festival. Then they scampered, chasing each other out, altogether in a tizzy about this crazy, corny, really ancient movie they just saw, yeah!

How great to witness such teen gaga discovery, such a rush of thrill and spritzing enthusiasm!

I smiled to myself. My daughters will have moments like this, years from now. Giggly discoveries with each other or with friends. By that time, I won’t be hanging out with them as much as I do now, so maybe I won’t see them capering around exactly like this. That’s okay. But it’s sweet to think they may laugh and hoot at stuff which I’m too over to care about, at things I’ve long taken for granted.

Youth isn’t always wasted on the young. When you’re fifteen, everything’s an adventure, especially if you’re out with your friends. At fifteen, there are so many things left to discover. When you see Goldfinger for the first time, it seems like the most outrageous artifact of a prehistoric time. You can’t even believe someone actually made such a zany film. Without CGI!

Dear reader, please do not cynically judge me. I do not miss that joy of discovery. I experience that joy every time I Google. It’s just nice to catch a glimpse of things to come for Adinah and V.

It makes me happy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If I had a Hammer

I’ve been watching too many movies.

I’ve been eating too much salt. I’ve been writing too little. I’ve not been practicing yoga. I’ve been preaching to the converted.

I want a cold beer. I want to be better at conflict resolution. I want to be less sarcastic with my kids. I want another good HP Lovecraft book. I want a decent plate of nachos. I want a date with my wife.

I need to see that eye doctor (but I can’t!) I need to straighten out some business affairs, and pay the dentist bill. I need to make a memory box and start a Life Book for V. Jesus Christ, I need a break. I need to interrupt less and listen more.

I wish I had more hair on my head. I wish I had a stronger chin and actual eyebrows. I wish I had more money. I’d love it if I had more friends of my own (but friendships require time and care.) I wish I could read an uplifting newspaper article about politics and the economy in the USA. I wish I could vaporize Al Quaeda, the Taliban and the drug cartels in my beloved Mexico. I wish I had Kung Fu superpowers.

But today I’ve got to teach my class. I’ve got to pick up my kids at 3, then pick up the new closet shelves at the carpenter’s shop. I gotta read that paragraph that Anette wrote for Harvard. I gotta get a line on you.

I’ve got to tell them, ‘I love you.’

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back to Sicily, Part 2

After discovering three jellyfish in the first twenty feet of my first walk on this beach, I passed through the Twelve Stages of vacation recovery. Denial: “This isn’t happening to us!” Disbelief: “I can’t believe we’re stuck for two weeks on a beautiful beach full of quasi-lethal invertebrates!” Evasion: “How long can I keep this news from my wife?”

V. is too young to understand the exquisite discomfort of a jellyfish kiss, so I didn’t bother explaining the off-purple blobs on the sand to her. I just steered her away, and she burbled along happily enough.

When Adinah woke up, I didn’t have the heart to tell her. I was afraid she would be afraid to go in the water. I was afraid to go in the water. I was even more afraid Anette would immediately insist that we pack up and go searching for another beach in Sicily. And after our missed flight, lost luggage and that €120 cab ride, moving to another spot just sounded like a lot of damn work.

But when I got her to myself, I told my gal about the jellyfish, which the Italians call ‘medusa.’ She said, ‘Then let’s just go to another campsite.’ I said, ‘Let’s just go to the beach and see how it goes.’

A few hours later, after chocolate cornettos and cappuccino, we strode bravely out onto the beach—a lovely stretch of sand, a long, shallow shelf with sand bars so kids can walk way way out, not too many people…in other words, perfect.

I screwed up my courage and told my oldest daughter there might be medusa. Adinah didn’t care, she said—she was ready to jump in the ocean. We asked the people on the beach: one burnt brown German couple said they’d been here two weeks and had only seen a couple of jellyfish. And despite all the splats in the sand I’d seen earlier in the day, I could only find one blob there now. So I showed it to V. I thought, ‘She has to know about them so she won’t pick one up.’ V. never wants to swim in the ocean anyway, and I was afraid that now she’s just have one more reason to stay out of the drink. Instead, she got a stick and tried to poke the thing. Jellyfish really do look like little piles of marmalade.

This was not the first time I realized that, as a parent, you have to be careful you don’t give your kid all of your own fears. They usually don’t need them.

Still, on that first day, Adinah walked into the waves slowly. Anette waded in a few inches at a time. I screamed ‘Banzai!’ and threw myself into the water faux-hysterically. V. laughed at me, then declined to get wet at all.

We stayed there for twelve days. By the end of it, V. was splashing around and swimming as fearlessly as the rest of us.

One day, a whole army of medusa did invade our beach. As soon as we saw them, Adinah said, “Let’s go get a net!’ We spent the rest of that morning hunting jellyfish. They really are beautiful little creatures….

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back to Sicily

One of the themes of our return to the beaches of the Corleone family was facing our fears. Or put another way, we learned that when life gives you jellyfish, make jellyfish salad.

We started off on the wrong foot. Packed and prepared early, got to the airport with plenty of time to make our flight to Rome, only to be told we were a day late. I hadn't looked at our itinerary very carefully.

After some tears and fears ("The airline won't refund, the campsite has surely given our trailer away, and every hotel on every beach within five hundred miles has got to be sold out!"), we convinced the nice butch lady at AlItalia to help us. She got us on a flight the next day.

The next day started out well enough. The other employees of AlItalia honored our quasi-legitimate rebooking, and we made it from Vienna to Rome, then on to Palermo. Then: 'Oops, sorry, one of your bags was put on a later flight to Palermo. Or maybe it was Milan.'

Eventually our other backpack arrived. But we had missed the last bus to our destination, a tiny village two hours away from Palermo. Anette talked a taxi driver into taking us to Menfi for 100 Euro. By the time we arrived some ninety minutes later, this fee had been adjusted for inflation to 120 Euro. I didn't mind the fare hike so much because I was busy looking around our camping village. It was dark already, but I didn't see or smell any trace of ocean anywhere nearby. Anette had booked it online. Had we committed two weeks to a hot little shack two kilometers from the sea?

No. A nice young man showed us to a roomy trailer with a refrigerator and a stove. We got the kids into bed, drank one large, very cold Morretti apiece, then Anette crawled under the covers, too. The campground seemed peaceful but strangely empty. It was a beautiful, cool summer night. I took a walk...and a hundred meters down a paved path, I stumbled into the Mediterranean.

Everything seemed peachy until the next morning. V woke up early, so I took her down to the beach.

Jellyfish everywhere. And not the cute, zoologically-interesting ones, but the ones that make you go "OWWWW!! Something is burning through my upper thigh!"

My vacation flashed before my eyes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gone Fishin' (in Sicily)


(barring Internet access on the beach, Euro Like Me will return in two weeks!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brand New, You're Ancient



The annual Donau Insel Fest is a sprawling, drunken, fried food and bad music party along the Danube. Six hundred thousand people attended this year—that’s about one third of the population of Vienna. It’s not a party which generally inspires life-affirming epiphanies. But that’s what I got at the Donau Insel Fest this weekend.

We got there just as the Masibambane Marimba Band was walking onstage. They are seven young women and three young men, and they look to be between the ages of 13 and 17. They wear matching shift dresses and shirts. They play four big marimbas and a couple of drums. Sometimes a couple of the young women sing. They are awesome.

At the front, stage right, is the Angus Young chair, where several of the older girls knock out the scorching, knarly leads. Sometimes they smile, or jive a little bit, but they always add scattering spluttering super-funky solos on top of everything else. But as with AC/DC, it’s almost more fun to watch the back line-the steady-on, never faltering rhythm monster, the real melody maker. The MMB’s Malcolm Young is a younger, very serious girl who pokes her tongue into her cheek as she lays down unshakeable, beautifully melodic lines. I don’t think she’d stop even if an earthquake hit Vienna.

I cycled through the band, picking a new favorite musician every few minutes. Each of them, especially the young women, had their own style and charm: one smiled so reflexively, a born performer; another, with smaller eyes, swept around the stage with such quiet authority, yet barely called attention to herself. It was also like the Beatles: all of them great, but each with their own ‘thing.’ Then they broke into ‘Amazing Grace.’

I think I would have been moved even if I wasn’t already in love with two young brown girls.

And even as I was having such a blast watching the band, and loving the idea of my Ethiopian-Austrian and Nigerian-Austrian daughters watching them too, I was struck by something else. I realized I’ve always loved the sound that comes out of a marimba—it’s a very lovable thing, so full and round and colorful.

The Masibambane Marimba Band made me think of the classic techno track “Voodoo Ray” by A Guy Called Gerald. In that old (1988) ditty, woven between the drum machine beats and the acid synthesizers is a melody line that rings clear and round, and sounds a bit like a marimba. It’s actually another synth, I think, but it doesn’t matter: a great deal of the beauty and funkadelicism of “Voodoo Ray” derives from that mellifluous, bell-like tune. In other words, the motor of this electronic music masterpiece is actually a sound that could have been made on wooden instruments in South Africa and Zimbabwe hundreds of years ago.

It made me think that there are no new sounds, only new ways to make them.

The genius of that, and the deep, historical continuity too, made me smile for the rest of that sunny Saturday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Personal

Well, I tried out the new line yesterday. It didn't go so well.

V and Adinah and I were walking down our street, in no particular hurry. I felt good.

About twenty-five feet behind me, V. had just decided she did not feel good, and was launching a mini-tantrum. Also behind us, a little old lady with shopping bags had just passed V. and Adinah, and was approaching me with that little smile people get when they want to make contact. She looked harmless enough.

When she got to me, she looked back at the girls, who were now assaulting a coin-operated rocking horse. The lady asked, in German, 'Where is their mother from?'

So I smiled a friendly but pointed smile back, like I was about to be frank with a good pal, and I said, "That's a very personal question."

The little old lady went off. Blustering, frowning, huffing.

"That's not a personal question," she cried. "That's a normal question!"

"Do we know each other?" I asked her.

"No, I saw the children and I thought they looked like they were from Africa!"

I started to ask her why she would ask me something like that, but she didn't let me finish. Tried to ask her to be more polite, but she didn't hear me. Blustering. And mad.

So I put up my hand and walked back to my kids. And Adinah, seeing the lady making a commotion, asked, "What's she saying, Papa?"

That's when I thought I might have been wrong. I'm so tired of people asking us about us, when it's just none of their business. It's probably harmless, she's probably a nice person, but really, I'm sure she would never ask any other total stranger the same question. And I wanted her to check herself. Maybe I thought, 'Now she'll think twice before asking another family a damn fool question.'

But maybe I was only thinking of myself, and that stranger, and not of my girls. Adinah could see something had happened, could see the lady was mad at me, and that may have frightened her, or made her feel bad. That's not right, either.

It's so hard to know what to do sometimes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blow Your Whistle



I ♥ the public library. Doesn't matter which city-the library is the bees knees. I loved the branch libraries and the Bookmobile when I was a kid in Austin, Texas. I adored the gigantic reading rooms of the New York Public. And now I dig the Stadt Bucherei--you know, the one with the dizzy facade, at the Burgasse stop of the U6 U-Bahn. The library has always been where I go to get new ideas for absolutely fucking free.

Something caught my eye when I was there a few weeks ago. A shiny silver glitter ball in the shape of a Big Apple. And the word "Disco" in the title. I picked it up casually, gave it a glance, then put it back--I was on a different mission that day. But I noticed that it was written by Vince Aletti, who I've always been intrigued by: he wrote about photography and pop culture for the Village Voice, now he's at the New Yorker. He's smart. But I didn't know he was also the inside man journalist at Ground Zero Disco Manhattan nineteen-seventy-five baby!

A week or two later, I went back, checked it out, and brought that book home with me. It's called The Disco Files 1973-78, and it collects all of the columns Aletti wrote about dance music for a trade magazine in the middle 70's. This is a great book. It came out (!) in 2009, but I must have missed it. Aletti writes about music with a ton of passion, but he balances that with the perspective of a DJ, who has to also think of music as a functional thing. A surgeon thinks a heart is just another kind of pump, and a DJ thinks of a piece of music as a people mover. Or a sedative. Music as a firestarter or a fire dowser. This perspective makes The Disco Files a nice mix of infectious music criticism and epic shopping list.

So now I'm obsessed with finding a copy of Hot Blood's "Soul Dracula." And I'll also be needing a copy of "7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blow Your Whistle" by Gary Toms Empire. Yes! Did you know the Ventures did a (allegedly great) disco tune? It's called "Superstar Revue"! One, please!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don’t Believe the Hype



1) the Brazil team

2) the Tea Party

3) the next big Flu

4) neo-liberalism

5) Robin Hood

6) Power Point

7) LCD Sound System

8) Viennese ice cream

9) Automobiles

10) Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seven Years Later

My favorite news source, besides Facebook of course, is the New Yorker. It's the best magazine. It regularly blows my brains out. And sometimes other pieces in it are just 'Meh.' I'm not sure what I think about this one, about an international adoption from Haiti.

The writer, John Seabrook, began an adoption before the horrible recent earthquakes there, then he scrambled down to the island as soon as he could to meet his daughter in the wake of the disaster. He writes that he and his wife just wanted a kid, but then it turned into a rescue mission.

I guess I'm ambivalent about this because it's a lot like our story. Our adoption of Adinah began with a lot of paperwork, a slow build of excitement, then a sudden, unexpectedly early trip to Addis Ababa to meet her. It became an emergency in our last days there, when Adinah caught pneumonia. Then just before we got on the plane home, she broke out in a rash, which we thought was maybe an allergic reaction to the anti-biotics. A few hours later we landed in London with a very sick baby. What was supposed to be a four-hour layover turned into an four day hospital stay. When one of the doctors made a "casual" remark about the unreliability of AIDS testing in Africa, we were worried sick for 24 hours as we awaited a new round of test results.

But we were all heroes, and we got through it, got home, and then we started to become a regular family. That was seven years ago.

Maybe every international adoption is an emergency. Or seems like one at the time.

These days, I forget some of what we have experienced. I think we're normal and special, but special in a regular family way. When I look at Adinah, I don't think about all the stuff in John Seabrook's article: the problems of transracial relationships, the wealth gap between Ethiopia and the US, the disasters she may have witnessed in the time Before Us. I look at her and I see my daughter. My most precious A'd.

I don't see a damsel in distress, I don't see a victim. I don't see what a stranger once told us we'd taken on--a superproject. She's not an errand of mercy. She's a little girl, and she's getting bigger all the time. I see that she has darker skin than I do, and I notice that sometimes people stare at us. But I don't repeat 'We're a normal family,' as a mantra. I don't think,'That's racist,' every time someone is mean to us.

I do grimace a little when I read an article like this about adoption, though. Journalists--even those who are adoptive parents themselves--often play up the drama and trauma and ambivalence of the experience. I know I did. But I think that what we share with all families is a lot of uncertainty. As any sort of parent, you can never be certain that your kids will be healthy, or kind, or upstanding, respectable Deep Purple fans. Nobody gets guarantees. Perhaps adoptive parents are exposed to one or two more variables, like what the NAACP or the National Social Workers guild will think about interracial adoptions five years from now when all the hubbub over Brangelina and Madonna has died down. But...who...cares?

Parenting is always a tightrope act. Look down, and you're done. Keep your eyes front--commit--and you might just be okay.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

my watch

I like the scene in Terminator 2, where Arnold, now the good Terminator, is playing with John Connor, the boy who will grow up to save the world, while the boy’s mother watches them. She muses, in voiceover,’ Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator wouldn't stop, it would never leave him. It would never hurt him or shout at him or get drunk and hit him or say it was too busy to spend time with him. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers that came over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only thing that measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.’

I could say this scene is a foundational principle of my dadhood, but it’s closer to the truth to say that it sticks in my head like a broken record. Something about this ridiculous science fiction feels true. That is what a dad must do, I think. At least, that’s what he should try to do: protect the kid. Eliminate cyber-bots and/or bullies, defuse plasma bombs and/or common colds, but be sure you maintain a secure perimeter around that child.

Aspiring to be a metallic, super-bodyguard-bot seems like a reasonable goal.

But I think, somehow, I’ve let my intention to be like Arnold slip a little bit. Especially as regards V. When she came into our lives, she was a chubby, strong kid who seemed fearless. She didn’t look like she needed protection. But we were wrong about her. Maybe I can try to be Atticus Finch for Adinah, but V. needs more Terminator 2 from me.

She tries to do everything her big sister and the other 7-year-olds do. But she’s 3. She hollers a blue streak when I say, ‘No.’ And she’s been known to shout down playground bullies several years older than her. But she’s also afraid of loud noises and almost every animal besides caterpillars.

Sometimes V. falls down, scrapes her knee, and doesn’t even blink. But she’s still a princess, a sensitive flower. She looks so pretty in a summer dress, even though she’s gonna be covered with chocolate and glue and mud in twenty minutes.

And she needs more looking out from me.

Monday, May 31, 2010

After the Weekend I Need a Holiday

A wedding. An art opening and book launch party. Auditioning a new babysitter. Three trips across Vienna and back home again by U-Bahn in one day. A pretty intense visit with a healer from Jeruselem. Drinks with my New Yorker friends Larry and Klaudia. A Skype call plus blowjob revelations from my old high school friend Ralph (last contact: maybe, oh, thirty years ago.) Scouting the river town of Kritzendorf for a summer Danube shack we can call our own.

Playing cards and laffing hysterically with Adinah. Asking V. for the fourth time to put on her pants, and then laughing despite ourselves as she defied us by trotting around doing a butt-naked turkey dance. Holding and kissing my wife when she came back from five days in Belgium.

Fighting with Adinah, fighting with V., and fighting with Anette too.

So I straggle into the office Monday at 8 a.m., happy to be in place with Standard Operating Procedures, a chain of command and immutable rules. My real life has none of these things.

There's no employee handbook for adult life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

at the playground again

A sunny holiday afternoon, the playground fresh and green from yesterday’s rain. Adinah and V. and I are playing on the line swing, along with a few other kids, plus a trio of older ones. The oldest of these last are a boy and girl, about thirteen.

The teenagers are taking extra turns, cutting in line, telling the little kids to wait. Adinah notices and tells me. I mumble something like, “Yeah, I see, I got it.’

Then two of the older kids walk away, leaving just the teenage girl. V. is up next. The teenage girl grabs for the swing to go again.

“It’s her turn,” I say in my halting German, and I take the swing.

“Bitte? (Excuse me?)” the teenager says with a sharp grimace.

The rest of our exchange is rapidfire, with lots of overlapping dialogue, and very little listening.

"It's her turn," I say, pointing at my three-year-old daughter.

"This ride isn't for little ones," the teenager snaps.

"This park is for everyone," I say.

"Why are you shouting at me?" she says.

"I'm not shouting at you," I answer. "Can you be a little more polite?"

The teenage girl doesn't hear me because she's saying something I don't hear because I'm already saying, again, "Can you be a little more polite?"

"You're not my father," she spits.

That's when I stop. I turn away and try to help V. with the swing. But I'm useless because I'm shaking.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eight Reasons Why Mahler and his Sixth Symphony are the Bomb



1) The first thirty-six seconds of the symphony sounds like a storm warning of the biggest trouble you have ever seen, bearing down on you Right Now.

2) The Sixth was immediatley labeled "satanic." Just like Cradle of Filth.

3) After the premier performance, Mahler was found pacing the floor in the dressing room, weeping from the intensity of hearing what he himself had created.

4) Mahler was Anette's mother's favorite. Knowing Mahler is like knowing a little more about Resi.

5) The strange little cow bells which shimmer, almost beyond (my) hearing range, in both the first movement and the Finale. But maybe I'm just imagining them.

6) The fact that with the Sixth, which was first performed in 1906, Mahler expressed something of the mindset of the Austrians and Germans who would, eight years later, declare Total War on the World. (Credit for this insight, as well as info in 2 and 3, goes to Alex Ross, and his awesome book The Rest is Noise.)

7)Here was a man who understood the phrase "terrible beauty."

8) Cool glasses.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

rainy day

Did I mention that the Austrians observe eight hundred Christian holidays a year? Not quite as many as the Ethiopians (who actually do celebrate more than a hundred per year) but close. Last Thursday was Himmelfahrt, which means "unpleasant odor in Heaven," (though I don't know why they celebrate that.) So Friday was a "window day"--stuck between a holiday and a weekend--and many of the not-so-hard-working Austrians took that off as well.

The streets were rainy and empty when I walked the kids to school. The halls of the place were half-dark. It made me remember something: when I was a kid, if I knew a place as busy and bustling, then it was really uncanny to see it quiet and deserted. Quiet hallways, different echoes, everyone missing.

Now I'm older, more sentimental, more egotistical. So my first impulse was to wonder if V. and Adinah think of these quiet days as somehow magical. Or maybe they think big empty buildings are scary.

But I like these days. It seems like I could take a nap on a street corner and no one would mind. Or notice. Schedules forgotten, everyday frenzies AWOL, all peevishness and stress evaporated. The city becomes dreamy. I drift off....