Saturday, May 30, 2009

Biking in Melk: the von Donner Party

As the crowning glory of our study of Baroque architecture this week, Rob went to Melk Abbey (Click to enlarge pictures)with the students and Maddie, Will, Sebi and our good friend and former study abroad student Sarah Reed. Mary Ann stayed home with Joss, who is fighting an ear infection and losing piteously. The 1-year old set does not exactly care about Benedictine monks, Baroque theatricality and Trompe-d'ouille technique (spelling, Marie-Laure?). The students were very into the marble library, the super-gilded church and the dressed-up skeletons in the side chapels. They look like they have been stuffed into panty hose and posed in perky, life-like positions. Will got the willies from a smiling skeleton propped up on one elbow who looked like he was trying to pick up a sexy ham-bone in a bar with a sleazy lounge-lizard line like "does that femur go all the way to the floor?"
For many years, the traditional Melk trip has been followed by a pleasant 3-hour bycicle trip through the Wachau Valley--all verdant orchards, clifftop castles and Medieval villages. For some reason, it has always been sunny and pleasant, even for the Fall groups. Well, we took one for all future study abroad programs in Vienna. Moments after we pulled out of the bike rental place, and seconds after we pulled out of the first little town, the sky darkened and we were all swallowed up by gales of freezing wind and sideways-pelting heavy rain. The McFarland kids were chipper at first, but eventually wailed with cold and exhaustion (Except for Sebi, who was cozily stowed in a rain-proofed trailer with a pack of Haribo gummy stuff). We had to call our Serbian bus driver and try to explain where we had gotten caught. We were in Willendorf (home of that zaftig ancient "Venus"goddess for those of you into art history), mercifully taken in by the town fire department. We dripped on their floor as they rolled kegs into piles for their upcoming fest (Maddie: "Do they put our their fires with beer?). Eventually, we were able to rescue all of the students in their various hideouts along the way. McKay, true to form, had not made it very far because he kept stopping to try out new warm restaurants. Over half of the group was intrepid enough to make it the 36km to Krems, where they arrived with hypothermia. The bikes were left scattered like dead bodies across the Wachau, to be gathered by a very forgiving rental service. You win some, as has been recently said, and you lose some, and today is living proof that SOME. ARE. RAINED. OUT.
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Mucha! Mucha!

I don't think I've really talked much about it, but Maddie and I are taking classes at the Austro-American Institute of Education with the students. We go for two hours each morning and talk about Austrian topics like minorities and political parties, and relative clauses and indefinite articles. I always do my homework and I still don't make much sense. Maddie doesn't ever do her homework and she's still the star pupil. Harrrumph. This week she got points for correctly identifying the aria being sung next door. Show off.
But I was actually going to talk about Thursday when we cut class to go to the Lower Belvedere. With apologies to Herr Dr. Wassertheuer, German grammar we have with us always, but Alfons Mucha is gone after this weekend. We met Rob and took the streetcar over to this building where even the basement staircase and the faucet and the hand dryers were hip and artsy and they played peppy music in the bathroom stalls.
Alfons Mucha was Czech, and is best known for his Art Noveau posters of Sarah Bernhardt, cigarettes, champagne, and chocolate. He is an early and interesting case of blurring the lines between art and graphic arts and commercialism. Rob and I knew that we liked his posters, but the exhibition had many drawings and studies and books that he'd illustrated. We loved the chairs he designed, and the interior of a French jewelry store. We loved the jewelry he designed (there was a pendant picturing a waterfall made entirely of different blue enamels and diamonds and gorgeous opal rings). Maddie's favorite was the interior mural for the Bosnian/Herzogovinian pavilion at the world fair -- they'd recreated it in a room complete with window panels. He also made twenty immense canvases representing the glories of the Slavs (called the Slav Epic) and they had two on display. Politically he was a huge advocate for his people (he also did panels in the Prague Municipal house illustrating the virtues of the slavs), and spiritually he attempted a reconciliation between the Christianity and Occultism which were at odds in his day (his printing of _The Lord's Prayer_ was really something). He'd be worth a lot more study, but at least we gave him a couple of hours.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

December: Wiggy Festwochen Date

From Diciembre Rob wants to see great performances while in Vienna. He's not content to attend the fluffy tourist concerts being hawked by men in Mozart coats. But he tries hard to find things I can understand too. Consequently we have seen some interesting, but offbeat things. In 2005 we saw something called "Amnesia de Fugar" (Amnesia of Migration?) for which the audience had to be at least bilingual. It was a play in Spanish and Hindi being simultaneously translated into German (the Spanish) and English (the Hindi). It was fantastic.
Last night's language was theoretically simpler: Chileans speaking Spanish with German supertitles. It was a dystopian play with three actors set in 2014 with a Chile who is at war with Peru and Bolivia. A soldier, Jorge, is at home visiting his two sisters, Trinidad and Paula. Trinidad is a hippie pacifist and Paula is a warmonger. Family dysfunction reigns. At various points both sisters are so mad that they rip off their wigs.
The acting was incredible. Each person came on at one point as another character and they were phenomenal. But more amazing was their ability to talk for about five minutes straight. Neither Rob nor I could keep up with everything that happened in the last 20 minutes because it was so rapid fire that I couldn't keep up and the supertitles just kept flashing on by. We tried to piece some of it together afterward. It was the last of our Festwochen tickets this year and we're sorry to see them go -- we were just commenting that we've never seen a bad performance with them; plenty of things that went way over our heads, but always an amazing event.
Then we walked back through the city (no strollers! no whining!) a new way and went to the Grieschenbeisl. This is one of the oldest establishments in Vienna, and Will and I found it on one of our walks in 2002, but I'd never been there to eat. I thought we didn't have time, it being already 10pm, but Rob asked the host if we could just come in for a 'Moor and his Shirt', and we were seated and had it in front of us within 5 minutes. I guess you know how to run a restaurant when you've been in business over half a millenium. There was barrel vaulting. There was accordion playing. There was a large man making ribald comments about the items on the menu ("Bavarians!" cried Rob like a true Berliner). It was a pretty fabulous example of Moor and His Shirt -- a little more modern presentation with the cream on the side, a little crunchy even around the edges. A little darker chocolate sauce. Very satisfying.
One of our students is on Strudelquest 2009, to find the most amazing, most affordable apple strudel. I'm definitely more in search of the end-all and be-all of Mohr im Hemd.

Conquering the Baroque: Karlskirche

Rob and Maddie had just had their own adventure going to the Karlskirche (click the collage to enlarge). Each afternoon, Monday through Thursday, Rob takes the students for two hours and they see part of Vienna's architecture. He is working his way through the historical periods, so he started with the Roman ruins, then Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and now they're in the Baroque (which is huge in Vienna -- they'll be Baroque for a week or more).
The Karlskirche is a huge baroque confection with minarets which was built in gratitude after the plague had left Vienna. It's a wonderful place to see the Baroque because they're refurbishing it, and you can ride an elevator up into the scaffolding in the dome -- "close enough to touch the angels" as Rob advertised it. You can see in the bottom of the collage, the students are standing on the platform in the dome. Even at that height, they're all clustered in the middle, and there is a "camera net" around it so you don't drop your Canon on somebody's head. Above that scaffolding, you can walk up several flights of stairs and peek out the windows in that little top hat that Maddie's pointing to in the center of the picture.
There is a sign at the bottom of the stairs, which warns you that no more than ten people should be on the stairs/at the tippy top at any one time, but there is no one monitoring it. So you are pretty much terrified enough that you wait until someone comes down before you go up. Since it's all temporary scaffolding, it wiggles a bit and gives you vertigo. Even Rob's knees were shaking, and he was the only one left at the top of the Funkturm in Berlin when we went there on a windy day. After declaring herself too old and too cool for Papa in the cathedral crypt last week, Maddie recanted here and asked for some handholding up the stairs. But she made it to the very top!
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Und So Weiter

I need to confess that during the opera I was thoroughly frustrated. I couldn't understand enough of the singing (which was operatic) and I couldn't understand the supertitles (which were in German). It had been a long several days and Joss hasn't been giving us a whole lot of sleep, so trying to understand church, then class, then the opera was giving me what Rob says is "classic culture shock" whose major symptom, according to him, is a wish to quit speaking German.
Whatever. I have good reasons.
In the opera, the word "shicksal" kept coming up, over and over, and I couldn't make out any cognate in the singing. 'What the heck is a shicksal?' Afterward I asked Rob and he told me it means "fate". I was mad. Fate doesn't have an indefinite article -- what is that about?! If there is "a fate" it means I can choose between options and is that, I ask you, really fate? Also, etymologically, I thought that shicksal should be a room (like "Lesesaal" or "Prunktsaal" or the other "saals" we've been to, but I was missing another "a"). Stupid, obnoxious language that I can't understand after ten years of it. Blech.
Since then, I've had more sleep and I've understood a lot more. Yesterday I took the three boys on their scooters rolling down the Donau Canal. The U-bahn ran alongside the path, and Will was elated to try and race the trains going by. We reached the next stop on the green line so quickly, that we decided to roll all the way to Schwedenplatz and get ice cream. It took us about 45 minutes, but it was a great place to work out some energy and scream and run. We got our eis and sat in the plaza and ate it, and I realized that I hadn't fed Joss after his nap, so he had Haselnuss and Malaga gelato for lunch. Seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Both boys told me that they were definitely going to need to ride back home on the U-bahn. It was getting to be busy commute time and the train was pretty full, so we worked back a car or two before we found an entrance to get on. Imagine our surprise when Maddie and Rob left their seats and came over! They were really impressed with our trip.
Here are a few things we've seen/I've noticed in the last couple of days:
- a huge orange boat, sponsored by our online bank, which is a swimming pool barge. So that you can go swimming in a pool, floating in the Donau (it sounds good to me, being a bigger fan of the pool than of the green/brown Danube)
- three police motorboats cruising up the Donaucanal; the one in front had it good, but the two behind had a hard time in the wake.
- a streetcar that said "Fahrschule" (driving school) with only Bim Drivers-in-Training and their mentor up at the wheel. I feel much better riding those knowing that they've had their own school.
- Austrian dryers continue to lag behind in their technology. I actually have to empty the water out of mine each time I dry a load. Nothing like a sensor, either.
- But the cheese! Oh, the cheese, cheese, cheese, CHEESE! Our teensy little train-station grocery store has dozens up on dozens of cheeses, and most of them are less than two Euros. Where has all the cheese gone in America? And why does Fluffy favor huge blocks of Costco cheddar instead of the beautiful Gouda they have here? WHY?
I'm going to conquer this wee alpine language with it's arbitrary genders and its Kasus and its Chaos and its Krapfen and Kipferls and Beisls and Grundesbundesschlickesgesamtweltwerke. I am. It is one of my schicksals -- I'm certain of it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dido and Petunia Dursley

Monday night we saw another of the Festwochen performances. This was one of the most popular from 2006 and was having an encore performance both here and in England. It was Henry Purcell's renaissance opera, Dido and Aeneas, with a new foreword performed by Fiona Shaw.
She came out wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans, with a corsetted bodice tied on, and a bustle, which just looked like a fanny pack without a skirt over it. She recited lines from Ovid's story of Echo and Narcissus, then a section of TS Eliot's "The Wasteland," and finally a few lines of Yeats.Then we saw the opera, and I can see why this was a popular favorite in Vienna. It was both very formal/classical/historical and very hip/modern/spare, which is a combination the Viennese really groove on (they will often stick a new glass and metal facade/elevator/awning onto an old, old building). It suits them.
This had unadorned banks of theater lights in the middle of a typical Baroque room, and the opera followed suit: leads wore period costumes, but the chorus wore street clothes. You can see a few of the photos here. They used period instruments, including the largest lute I'd ever seen. The villainess ate cotton candy, wore sunglasses, and smoked (ok, I've never seen any singer smoke before). Since this work was premiered by a girls' school, they used two dozen or so girls in school uniforms to do the dancing, augmented by three ripped guys who did Circque du Soleil kind of stuff while hanging from the ceiling.
Afterward, Rob asked why Fiona Shaw sounded so familiar, and after thinking about it, I realized that she was Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter series. Also in Persuasion and Three Men and a Little Lady, and several other movies you'll have seen.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Prater Break (still Saturday . . . )

Will and I agreed, as we so rarely do, that since we were having to change trains at the Prater stop, that we should ride a couple of the rides at the Prater (Vienna's amusement park). So we walked down the Hauptallee until we reached that pinnacle of Viennese kitsch, the Hochschaubahn (a wee, alpine rollercoaster from the early post-war era which is all cement and has garden gnomes and the like; Rob had a student do his thesis on it, so we found out that at one point some homeless person lived in the highest tower for nearly a year, and all sorts of other useless factoids about it). I asked Sebastian after his ride if it was too scary, and he said "NO! IT WAS AWESOME!! OOOOWESOME!" I was glad that we'd made his day. Then we let him ride the Monzabahn (above in the little green car), and Will got to ride in the bumper cars. Maddie was, like me, just plain garden-variety tired, so she opted out of a second ride. We stopped by Mr. Lee's Quick Lee chinese food and got take out for dinner. I don't know when I was so happy to take off my shoes and lie down!
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Picnic in the Dorf

These are pictures from lunch (click to enlarge). We had scraped together a picnic before we left, but we had no bread. So while we were waiting at the train station, I bribed Maddie and Will to go buy rolls (called semmel here, or schrippe in Berlin, and they don't understand you if you call them the wrong thing). I gave them money and told them they could split the change if they'd speak in German; they're very motivated for euros because Rob has let them each have a cell phone on this trip. So far, I am underwhelmed by the decision -- phones have caused hard feelings and tears and they spend plenty of time playing games on them. On the other hand, I was able to call Maddie during one of Rob's tours, and that was convenient.
In any event, we had a nice lunch, the students played with the kids, and Rob taught us all strange German idiomatic phrases such as "it's sausage to me" ('I don't care') and "you're stepping on my cookies" ('you're getting on my nerves'). Fluffy went to sleep again on the hike down the hill, and the rest of the family saw this creepy stag beetle on the way down (glad I didn't see it!). Poor Sebastian was lagging way behind by the end of the walk to the station.
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Every Day Is A Winding Road . . .

Every day is another day trip. Saturday morning, as every morning, we try to get everyone dressed, fed, and repack the backpack and stroller with everything we might need for the day's events (which, let's be honest, could be anything). We try to do it on time. Saturday we met most of the students at the train station to catch a commuter rail out to Leobendorf. Once we got there, we had a forty five minute hike up the hill to see this castle:
These are some pictures of Burg Kreuzenstein (click to enlarge). When we last went in 2002, Will was napping and I stayed in the hot bus to keep him asleep. This time Rob stayed out with Joss, who was asleep in his stroller. On the tour, we got separated from half of the students, and they turned out to be the advanced German speakers. The guide was nice enough and even funny, but his accent was pretty thick Wienerish, and so none of us could really tell what was going on. The kids were not much help.
What we did understand was that we were only supposed to take pictures outside the castle. But everyone on the tour was sneaking pictures, taking video while standing behind someone else, or even using flash when he moved into another room. I didn't -- I figured I'd do well to keep track of the three kids and I know that at least one of the students will be eager to share the contraband.
It was a neat castle, filled with all kinds of historical items, though many were not original to this castle, but brought by a collector of medieval goods in the 19th century. There were enough suits of armor and sharp metal objects to keep Will and Sebastian satisfied, and a great library where Maddie assured us she'd never leave. All the kids were properly grossed out by the primitive plumbing. Sebastian was appalled that there was no microwave; I pointed out an oven and told him they kept a fire going in it; he said "but they'll burn the food!"
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Haydn on the High Seas

Friday afternoon, Rob and I took Maddie and Will to a children's concert of Haydn in the basement of the Konzerthaus. There were three female musicians: pianist, violinist, cellist, and two male actors playing Haydn and his helper. The music was great and there was lots of kid humor and interaction. Our children said that the kids were much louder and worse-behaved than American kids (they would shriek "YES!" or "NO!" or "GOOD!" when asked). There is definitely something in the way that children grow up here as opposed to home, where they are raised by the dozen. But I loved that when the actor said "But who can break the spell of the magic piano?" some little girl yelled "Josef Haydn can!" They enjoyed it and we wished that we'd brought Sebastian too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spanish Riding School

This morning we went to see the Lippizaners at morning practice. Mostly this was an event I was pushing through. I thought that we should take the family to see the famous horses perform after living there as much as we have. I'd seen a performance once by myself, but not even Rob had been to see them.
Our former student Sarah, is here for a while, and we dragged her with us, jetlagged as she is,  down  to the Hofburg palace to see it. I'd sent Rob down earlier to get tickets. It was mayhem for him, buying the tickets and saving the seats from rabid Italians, and mayhem for us, trying to cross town and get to the seats in half an hour with the three boys and the stroller. It happened. We made it.
The Lippizaners trotted around to their music, and soon  enough the kids had named the horses: Whiffle (pure white), Smoky and Buddelbär, who was their favorite. They lasted for about an hour and then we left. It was definitely as much as kids could handle, but I might try kids on the Reitschule museum next time or send Maddie and Rob to an actual performance, because that is truly amazing: all the horses dancing in  time to the music and braiding in and out of each other, walking backward and stepping sideways. Then they explain what the different moves are and the horses demonstrate the easiest first, without riders, then the harder moves, then the riders get back on and they do them again. It's definitely worth seeing if you happen to be in town.

Date Night: Wacky Wiener Festwochen

Last night we had our first event, called I Went To The House But Did Not Enter (you might be able to see a trailer of it here)  I don't know if I can do it justice. 
It was a performance in three acts, based on the poetry of four of the 20th century's great poets: Kafka,  Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot and Maurice Blanchot, and their work had been set to music. Imagine, if you  will, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" being sung by a barbershop quartet as they set out tea, and you'll be pretty close to act one (John, I thought you would love it, and Allen, you'd have thought at least that part was pretty spot on). 
Act two took Blanchot's "Madness of the Day" and divided it up so that the four men were each saying parts of the poem -- as a conversation, on the phone to each other, in musings as they went about their daily rituals (Rob said "That's what should happen! You should pick up the phone and people should be asking deep philosophical questions!"). I wondered what Heather A. would have thought of the set, and of the stage crew, who changed the scenery in the dark with the curtains up --  some of them wore Grandpa Shumway-style headlamp flashlights.
Act Three took place in a hotel room and was Beckett.
 The staging was cleverand there were interesting themes about technology and self and alienation and the modern man. There's a talk on it at some point that Rob wants to go to. I'm not certain I'm up for more. But I looked over at him last night and I could just see him soaking the whole thing in. I knew that it would all come back tenfold in  ideas for ORCA projects and thesis topics and research and cub scout skits and Primary song leading. Watch out, world, Rob is getting tanked up on his  brand of happy!

Going to Goose Island on Christ's Heavenly Trip

That's a literal translation, anyway of what we did yesterday. We had no classes for Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day), and it was one of the first warm days of the season, so we and a number of students went out to the Gaensehaeufel (goose island) to go swimming. It is hard to imagine just how huge this place is if you haven't seen it. You  pay your fee and you get a  locker key. There are buildings, named for each letter of the alphabet and each one is divided into small rooms which each have about 50 lockers in them -- you do the math. Here is Joss, who thought he'd gone to heaven -- the whole world  is his bathtub! He didn't want me to hold his hand, but when a wave came, he'd  fall in face first.
Then there are several pools: the wave pool, where Will is checking out an incoming wave, then the baby pool, which is a lot like the splash park at home,  then two pools in the middle. These are lined entirely with plates of metal. I can only assume that this heats them up better, but it sure feels nice on your feet.
The pools are great for hanging around with your dad or people watching (oh, the people watching!).  It's a perfect place if you're contemplating your next tattoo or piercing or bathing suit or plastic surgery, because there is every body decorated and dressed every way you can possibly imagine. My personal favorites were the big buff guy with the incorrect english tattoo right across his front, and the pregnant woman in a bikini with tatooed wings on her back.
Here's Maddie and five of the students on the slide in the other pool.  I don't know that I saw Maddie all day. She has eschewed her family in favor of hanging out with the girls nearly twice her age (and really, who  can blame her?). They are very nice to her and never tell her to put her napkin in her lap. Gaensehaeufel also has a restaurant and shop and showers and places for all kinds of beachy pursuits. They even had a pavilion by Nivea with workers who will beslubber you with sunscreen (Rob tells me that he forgot sunscreen one time last year and had to go to the Nivea pavilion -- had to assure the workers that he could beslubber himself and if they could just get the kids . . . ).
The complex also has a beach on the Alte Donau (the old Danube) where you can swim around in the river. This is Maddie's very favorite part. Will liked it enough to  go jumping into it, but Sebi came out of it weeping that Will tricked him into  going and that the pool had rocks on the bottom of it! I hate to admit it, but I'm with Sebi -- why go swimming around in some rocky green water with fishies when there are great pools to be had 30 yards away?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Schmetterling Haus

We are really enjoying Vienna's small size as compared to Berlin. We had half an hour before Rob had to teach, and we walked from the restaurant where we had lunch over to the Burggarten so that he could take the kids to the butterfly house. This is housed in half of what used to be the imperial orangery, and now it's kept toasty and tropical to keep the butterflies happy. Maddie was especially excited to get three of them to land on her leg -- our camera captured one flying away from her. The building is a little art nouveau jewel, all swooping green iron ornaments and curving glass.
They stayed among the fluttering insects until Rob had to haul bootie back to the Institute to teach a lesson on Gothic architecture and lead a tour of St. Stephen's Cathedral. Maddie tagged along on the tour, and discussed flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting with the students. Last year, on a tour of St. Stephen's dark and spooky crypt, Maddie and Will clutched onto Rob and whimpered as they passed pits of bones and piles of skulls. Rob offered to take Maddie's hand this time, but she just rolled her eyes and said "DAAAAaaad!" He reminded her of her terrified clutch last year and she responded: "Yeah, but I was only nine then." Right--She's a whole 11 months older now. And surrounded by cool college chicks who love her. Time to cut those old apron strings--right next to a vault full of the dessicated remains of 13th-century plague victims. How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?
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Photos from Boston

I just had to post some of the pictures Saydi took in Boston because they are five times better than anything I can do. You can see more of her great stuff here and Saydi Shumway Photography.
Saydi stayed off the swan boat with Emmeline and chased around the lake taking pictures of us. The whole boat had to know who she was by the end of the trip because we were all chanting her name and pointing and waving at her.
I love it! How did I miss this moment? He looks so much better with her lighting than in my pictures. Yay Saydi!
The rhino brothers show their stuff.
We obviously need to practice kissing for the cameras -- too much nose here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just For Grandma: Fluffy's Early Steps

These are not first steps -- Joss has been walking for about six weeks; we wanted to record his gait because we find it so much fun (and grandma needed to see it). It was probably unfair to film him on pavers, but my don't they look good! This was in the courtyard of the Brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross which is now the college for applied arts.

It Is A Small Truth . . .

but a truth nonetheless, that you feel more at home after moving around some furniture and making an IKEA trip of your own. So that is what we did on Saturday. We had to come up with a high chair and wanted some other things, like a rug for Joss to play on in his room. We walked straight up to Kinderparadies and signed the three oldest up, then Rob told them that we only wanted to leave them for half an hour (half an hour?! are you kidding me? In the history of the world, when has any trip to IKEA taken half an hour?!? We'd still be wandering around sofabedland by then). We did, however, know what we needed, and we took only fifty minutes to find everything on the shopping list.
Then it was time to show off my packing prowess. Paper napkins and plates and cups in the panniers. Stuffed animals and pillows with the glass items in back. Bulky items and childproofing in the IKEA back hanging off the stroller, and the rug and highchair strapped into the front. Pretty good, huh? Joss didn't mind giving up his stroller at all for the trip home. Yay for the stroller!
We ate at the IKEA cafe and played at the outdoor play place and were grateful that children were expected. Once we got home, Joss took a nap. But when he got up, he was sick, sick, sick (ear infection, what else?) so Rob took him to a sort of children's InstaCare center, where he was until about 8:30. Then he took Joss over to the pharmacy that was open late (which was of course a bus ride away in another district). They two of them didn't get home until almost 10:00pm. But they did have the most cultural experience of the day. The pharmacy which happened to be doing night duty was called Zum Alten Loewen in the 8th and it was the first building in Vienna to have gas lights. This happened in 1835 and caused such a sensation that the Emperor Franz Josef himself came over to see what the fuss was all about. Since they had three separate prescriptions for Joss, we were pretty excited about the pharmacy ourselves!
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The Apartment

We arrived here at Spittelauerplatz. The apartment is up only one flight of steps and has an elevator which is very, very luxurious for us. It is a block from the U-bahn, and we have various restaurants, two grocery stores, a drug store and a pharmacy all very close. We even have a taxi stand half a block down. It looks out on this plaza with a small playground. There are lots of homeless guys around whom I will not talk about because my mom reads this blog.
It has been a revelation to us staying in an actual Study Abroad apartment -- always in the past we have had to rent a holiday apartment sight unseen over the internet, and we spend a lot of time the first few weeks reinventing various wheels. This apartment comes stocked with dishes and utensils to feed thirty students (rather than wine glasses for a few couples' drinking weekend away), folding chairs for all of them, a printer, and even little things like staplers, tape, and pencils that just don't come in vacation rentals. At our suggestion, the program also now has a cache of cell phones that they rent out to the students while they're here; this revolutionizes their stay because they live all around town. Now when they want to get together, they don't have to sit at home trying to reach other people and talking to hausfraus with their broken German. It is also so lovely to have the instructions to various things in English, like the microwave, which you have to push "stop" on to make it go -- was I going to know that on my own? Finally, it's great to see that other people have carted over peanut butter, brown sugar, US measuring spoons, and even a Costco-sized bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup; made me feel comparatively sane.
The apartment style is what I would call Undiluted IKEA by People Who Hate IKEA. It has been done by some staid, middle-class couple with good taste and no patience for whimsy. There is nary a "KNIK" or a "KNAK" or a "PEDDYWAK" of the more colorful Swedish varieties. One of Rob's colleagues got tired of this and busted out with two sets of curtains in an IKEA primitive print, which is an interesting topic in and of itself. I never understand the themes that connect their stuff together. For example, from the curtain in our room:
What is this? I call it Extracted Wisdom Tooth, With Majesty. Or how about this one?
Bird with Birthday Candles and Pedicure
In any event, the place works for us. Here are the kids enjoying the high speed internet and working on their keyboarding skills.
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Our Flight

From Boston, we traveled to New York's JFK airport. I can't walk through the Delta terminal without thinking of Jordan, one of our students, who was stuck there for 12 hours. He was appalled that "this is the first thing that some people see when they come to America! I really need Delta to get it together!!!" Amen. Thankfully, we didn't have to stick around.
We went to the Austrian counter where we discovered that they had switched planes on us and consequently messed up our seating: four random seats across a row of 8, and two loners. The man who would have sat in the midst of McFarlandom gratefully escaped to one of our aisle seats, as did the man sitting next to Sebi, so it worked out well.
It was a flight full of kids: there was a family with twin 16-month-olds right in front of us (loud and out of control, but you just don't care if it is going to deflect attention from you) and a Jewish family with five kids in matching yellow hoodies going to Israel. The father assured me that they had Benadryl to share if we needed it. They did fine except the part where their two-year-old barfed all over him in the middle of the night. The poor man was running around in his undershirt by breakfast. We offered him Rob's extra shirt because, well, we all packed extra clothes since at one time or another, we have all been barfed on or spilled a beverage all over ourselves, and because Austrian Air always plays luggage roulette with the bags. They are an absolute dream in the air, but on the ground it isn't quite so smooth.
Will played games as long as he could keep his eyes open. Maddie watched Inkheart at least twice. Sebi saw Surf's Up. Then all the kids fell asleep, more or less. Will stretched out on the floor. Maddie got three seats across and her legs on my knees. Sebi laid down across two seats and left Rob marooned without a seat at all. And Fluff fell asleep next to Maddie. So Rob and I got no sleep, which is what we were expecting. At some point Joss woke up screaming and Rob took him to the back where he let him play with all of the levers and buttons in the lavatory, filling and emptying the water and talking to the flight attendants. He found out that our favorite part of the airline -- the piping hot rolls they bring around to you -- is their least. They all had burns from reaching into the warmers during turbulence.
We landed. Got through customs. Got all 11 pieces of luggage. Found our contact. Stood around for a long while in the airport which has no air (lots of stale sweat and smoke, but no air). I was like those dogs in the Far Side cartoons who only understand the part with my name. I couldn't grasp what was going on or why we were standing there. Then we got a maxi van and drove to our apartment and all of us got horizontal and I woke up about 48 hours later just in time to serve dinner to twenty people for the first meeting of Study Abroad.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In Boston

We arrived in Boston, where Jeff and Saydi have fed us fabulously, shuttled us to and from the airport (two trips each time), given us guided tours and and entertained us, and let us sleep all over their house. In return, we've busted their muffler, clogged the toilet repeatedly, thrown random objects wantonly across their home, and kept Jeff mostly out of the office for three days. They're all broken up to see us leave. Our Make Way For Ducklings tour of Boston. (click to enlarge) We walked through the Public Library, down Newbury Street, Commonwealth Avenue, took a ride in a Swan Boat in the Public Garden and visited the duck statues, and walked through Beacon Hill.
We were also feted by Dave and Heather so that we got a chance to see dear Boston friends while we're in town. We have three Heathers to whom we are close (sister, cousin and friend); I don't know if it's something in the name, but they are all three consummate hostesses. They are not of the fussy-piped-cream-cheese-on-cucumber-sandwiches kind of hostesses, though they can probably do that too -- they are more of the please-feel-welcome-in-my-home-and-no-it-isn't-any-trouble-to-put-on-dinner-for-thirty-people kind of hostesses. I think I could really learn a lot just being a fly on the wall about how to entertain and make people feel comfortable. I think I could also be a great writer if I could just sit and listen to Heather, Lisa and Becca hold court.
Though maybe that's not being a writer. Perhaps that's just dictation. They are three women who regularly test the limits of my continence and this time was no exception.
I'd put in a picture, but I didn't take a single one. Danny will have to show off one from his ubercool teeny German vintage camera someday.
Our hike through the New Auburn cemetery with a great view of Boston at the top (click to enlarge). Kids sat on cannons and played hide and seek and tried to find the biggest sticks they could to smack whatever came out of the trees. Sebi kept trying to collect pieces of glass as "treasure" and finally got his comeuppance at the top. We had a discussion of the difference between broken glass and sea glass. Saydi met us at the top with welcome snacks and Emmeline.
Plum Island (click to enlarge). Tuesday afternoon we drove out by Newburyport and visited the Atlantic. I should have brought bathing suits. Or towels. Or extra clothes. McFarlands consider it their obligation, nay, their birthright, to jump into water and build sandcastles at the slightest provocation. Temperature is no deterrent and it wasn't this time. The kids tempted their smaller, younger cousins into the water as well, and everyone froze afterward. Saydi took off to fix the muffler once we arrived, and Emmeline played happily in her tent. Later Joss took a nap there too. Maddie was thrilled to have done the breaststroke in the Atlantic.
Tuesday was also Joss's first birthday. Here is what he did to celebrate (click to enlarge). It was a pretty eventful day for a little guy. You need to seize the day when you're leaving the country the next.

Mother's Day

My lovely family did actually squeeze in a mother's day dinner on Saturday. We had the house mostly clean upstairs and all packed, so we went to the farmers' market for lunch and sat out in the sun. We forced the kids to jump on the trampoline, knowing that they couldn't jump or yell or run screaming around the apartment in Vienna. Then they took me to Thai food and gave me great skincare gifts for the trip and a box of truffles from Sees for sanity. Will also made me a fantastic vase with flower pens and Maddie wrote the following poem:

Dear Mom,

Roses are red, most smell pretty good,

You're an awesome mom, and you make good food.

No twinkies, no corn dogs, no junk food at all,

Your food tastes delecious and portions arn't small.

You also really love us, and we really love you,

I know that sometimes I can be a big poo.



I love it! I love it as much as my aunt's, when cousin Reed called her "Beautiful as a baby orca whale".

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Flight to Boston

We tried to break up the flights this time around by stopping in Boston on the way out. We vacuumed ourselves out the door early on Mother's Day morning. We had a jolly driver in our airport shuttle who packed candies into each of his cupholders (which did not go unnoticed by the boys in the backseat). We were feeling overwhelmed on the curb when he dropped us off, and decided to use the sky cap.
It was the best decision ever, because we thought we'd have to pay for the bags since we were only going to Boston on Sunday. He looked at our itinerary and went and got us through free (a savings of $550) for the eleven bags of hooey we're hauling with us. Before you berate us though, note that our luggage is a legitimate reimbursible expense, while buying Legos or Cars the Movie underwear over in Vienna is not.
The security checkpoint went so smoothly that I couldn't believe we were on the other side. They let through our bottle of amoxicillin and motrin without batting an eyelash, and even let through this weird bag full of tortillas and mandarin oranges Rob had grabbed from the fridge. The only thing they wanted to check was Fluffy's gerber baby granola with pears and blueberries. We don't travel much -- has anyone else noticed that we seem to be at the lemon yellow alert level now?
The flight was also smooth and easy except for the Fluff, who was a manic monkey. Maddie went nose first into Percy Jackson re-reads and we never saw her. Will and Sebi watched Bolt and I saw Last Chance Harvey. I was playing the Mother's Day card and Rob had to wrestle Fluffy about three quarters of the flight.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Nadirs

We're now three days away from departure. I'm recording this to read when next we contemplate a study abroad, and to remind myself that I am never EVER going to rent or lend or permit anyone to live in my house while I'm gone again. It's like I'm trying to vacuum us into a corner and make a discreet exit with 6 people and hundreds of pounds of luggage.
Rob and I are not sleeping and we're working all day long. Yesterday in particular, Rob was a crazed demon: he gave up on sleeping at 5:00am, went running, read the Economist for a while, and fed the kids breakfast. After we got people off to school, we filled the truck with easily a thousand pounds of rocks and cement which he dumped by himself at his sister's/father's house where they are trying to fill a former root cellar (it will be an immense french drain after this). Then he picked up mulch and spent the rest of the day distributing it about the yard along with as much landscape renovation as one man can do with a rake, shovel and black plastic tarp. Then he mowed and was done by 6:30. After putting the kids to bed, I made him point from our bed while he decided what he should pack and I put it out. Then we retired downstairs and he packed three suitcases, weighing them each on a scale to appease the drones of Delta (would they be called Deltoids?). Finally, he selected the appropriate Lego pieces to take for his sons in order to build spaceships, which is what Legos are for. Then it was midnight and so he tried calling our people in Vienna to tie up some loose ends (like sending a van to take our screaming brood home from the airport with all of our carefully weighed crap). He didn't even take two union-approved 15 minute breaks.
I did a similar amount of stuff inside the house including, but not limited to clearing out two closets and a desk and cleaning the same, buying extra innertubes for the stroller and trying out/packing all of the acoutrements for it, doing laundry and dishes and packing up boxes and boxes of things that will be in the way of our renters.
It felt really good to get some suitcases packed yesterday, but each day at some point Rob has come in and said "Well, we're at our nadir." which panics me and I say "You said that yesterday!" and he tells me "I thought that yesterday was the nadir until I saw today."
Today nothing went right. I took Maddie out for an orthodontist appointment only to find out that her appliance was broken. Again. Every time we go in there it is loose and they have to cement it. This time it was sheared in half and they had to take new impressions and we have to go back tomorrow. I would be harder on her, but how is one supposed to be gentle and delicate with an object designed to torture your jaw? It's like having the Inquisition in your mouth.
All day people were calling or ringing the doorbell and I couldn't get anything done. Three times I was in the basement at the far end of the house trying to get kids to sort hooey and three times the doorbell rang. Beware that if you call or visit and you offer help, you're going to end up wiping down tubs and hauling boxes. Don't ask. Don't offer.
To bookend it all, I took the boys to the pediatrician where we waited an appallingly long time simply to have someone look into their ears. Will and Joss both have infections and we are now the proud owners of two amoxicillin prescriptions: two more things I didn't want to have to remember on the trip over. I will surely forget them somewhere or have Joss spit pink syrup all over me in an airport.
In the midst of it all, there have been a few bright spots. Rob and the kids made a tent in the backyard Sunday night where we played Apples to Apples in the rain and had FHE on Monday. Rob and I got a surprise lunch date on Tuesday when we decided to open the last bottle of Navarro.
And while we are talking about Navarro, there are two real restaurants in town -- we're so excited! We went to one a few weeks back, called Spark. It is totally non-alcoholic and among other beverages, they sell the Navarro gewurtztraminer and pinot noir that we love. Their service was good, ambience was hip, the clientele was dressed down a la dining in the Bay Area, and the food was surprising. I had sea bass with a pineapple salsa and lots of other adjectives I can't recall right now. Rob had sea scallops with a parmesan risotto and a granny smith and speck slaw that was also stellar. And we shared a dessert of chocolate pudding dipped in almond flour and flash fried, accompanied by orange and coriander ice cream. Portions were on the smaller, lighter side, which is also unique for this area.
For Rob's birthday we went shoe shopping and then I surprised him with Karen K's recommendation: Pizzeria Seven Twelve. I haven't confirmed it, but have heard that there is a Sundance chef and pastry chef behind it. It was busy even in the defunct Midtown complex, and had good decor and great art up by Brian Kershisnik (the artist who painted the breathtaking nativity which I hear is now up in Rob's building). We had a salad featuring our own Grandview Clifford Farms spinach and eggs (local! who would have thought it would reach us here!) and then shared a pizza with baby artichokes, red onions, pine nuts and a gremolata made up of garlic, parsley and candied Meyer lemons. It was fantastic. We were excited about all of it -- even the olive oil was good. We finished with rhubarb crumbles which the chef was worried about: Rob thought they were just right and not gooey or too sweet, but the chef's mother told him they were too tart. You can't please everyone! I was ready to go back the next night. I'd be ready to go back tonight, but I think I'm going to go to bed instead.