It Ain’t Over Till the Fat Lady Tumbles

In my second-to-last post, I let it slip that I had been to the opera. In Vienna. The Vienna State Opera. (Can you tell I am feeling pretty good about myself at this moment?) My mother-in-law (also known as “Omili”) had invited the whole family to performance of “L’Elisir D’Amore”  (which is Italian for “The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano Donizetti. It is not one of those operas that make you wonder if there are worse things than death (think: Wagner) and it’s not one with an aria that can make a prostitute cry (ala “Pretty Woman”), but it was a nice, if somewhat shallow, story. It was basically “boy meets girl, boy gets girl”  . . . with a little help from a bottle of cheap red wine. What made the opera a success was the wonderful singer/actors who not only clearly gave their all, but who all seemed like . . . realpeople. The kind you want to have a conversation or a beer with and tell them how good they are. The kind who let the audience know that the long and exuberant applause they are getting really means something to them.

And then there were the historic surroundings. The impressive building that is the Viennese Opera House – finished over 150 years ago – in which an uncountable number of famous opera singers and audience members had since . . . engaged. Unfortunately, I only had a minute to take a few shots of the entrance and hall – the boxes, the ceiling, the cool monitor in front of me,

and the empty seat next to me . . .

The one my mother-in-law should have been sitting in.

But she didn’t make it to the opera that night – thanks to an instant of incredible bad luck on the way there – one of those “simply in the wrong place at the wrong time” accidents. The kind where you spend hours afterwards obsessing . . . “if we had only not stopped to go to the bathroom . . .” or “if we had only chosen a different route to the park . . .” But we didn’t. We chose the subway. That required us to change trains and the transfer included two steep escalators with one long hallway between them. We never made it to the second one, because the first turned out to be “la scala mobile della sfortuna” (which is Italian for “The Escalator of Bad Luck”).

An extremely rotund little lady standing one step above Omili lost her balance and tumbled backward. Omili was catapulted awkwardly backward too – but, luckily, my husband was behind her to break the fall. Still – with two hip operations behind her, the situation was scary. And painful.

We all managed to get off the escalator and helped Omili to take some careful steps to the nearest . . . nothing! There were no benches anywhere to be seen. No elevators to the street level either. Just that long hallway leading to the next set of escalators, leading to the next platform for the next set of subway trains, which all were obviously no longer an option . . .

Supported by a child on either side, Omili put on a brave face as we started along one of the long hallways in search of assistance.  We tried to assess the extent of her injury and thought it was a good sign that she could take steps. Then I saw a subway worker up ahead walking toward us. He stopped to talk to the rotund woman who had caused our misery. When I reached them, I asked if a wheelchair could be brought.

“Do I look like I am an EMT??” he asked me arrogantly.

We stood there and I stared at him as the rest of my family reached us. My sister-in-law had heard his answer and laid into him in a polite yet assertive way that awed me. He quickly became more helpful and called for an ambulance.

The next helpers to arrive were the police. Well, actually one policeman and one police woman. We were now standing at the bottom of the up-escalator to the next platform. We chatted for a minute or two about the accident. The policeman then decided to go up and wait for the ambulance while the policewoman took down our information. She asked for my mother-in-law’s name and address, and then . . . she seemed to have come to the end of her repertoire. There was a confused silence.

“So . . . are you enjoying your stay in Vienna?” she asked.

Despite her pain, Omili laughed a bit and admitted that she had had better visits.

We all stood there in an awkward silence. Luckily for the policewoman, the commuters coming down the escalator toward us helped her out.  One after another they saw her, breathlessly approached, and then reported “There is a groper up there!!” Or, “There is a man up there grabbing young women!” Six or seven people did this in rapid succession.

The policewoman seemed a bit confused. She asked us if we thought she should go up there, seeing as how the emergency services were on the way. We assured her that it was probably the right thing to do. She left.

Four EMT’s arrived very shortly after that, but they also didn’t have a wheelchair with them. So two of them left to go get one and the other two stood around and engaged in small talk. In the meantime, the policewoman came back. It seemed her partner had things basically under control up there. Another awkward silence ensued. Now that help was here, maybe she should go back upstairs to her partner, she said. We agreed that it seemed like a good idea. She said goodbye to Omili and added, cheerily:

“Have fun!”

Things ended up working out about as well as could be hoped for. Omili was taken to the hospital and checked out. Nothing was broken to everyone’s relief. She opted to stay the night there and insisted that the rest of us still go to the opera as planned.

When freak accidents like this happen there are at least three ways to look at it.

1) You can say it was just simply dumb bad luck. Shit happens. Or . . .

2) You can look for some reason why it happened. What brought this on? Or . . .

3) You can look for some silver lining. Actually we were lucky because it could have been much worse . . .

I am torn between options 2 and 3.

On the one hand, take a close look at the first picture at the start of this post. It is the unused ticket – Seat 13 in Row 13. Isn’t that a sign?

On the other hand, what if the fat lady hadn’t tumbled and we had made it up that second escalator and on to the platform where the groper was standing? And what if he had seen us?  Then again, one of the witnesses had said he was grabbing “young” girls – so we probably would have been safe. Thanks to Omili, we will never know.

 

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Growing Pains

Two things in my life have been rapidly expanding lately and I would like to get both of them under control. One is my waistline (probably due to my having finally gotten off the nicotine.) The other is the size of my family. In the past five weeks we have grown by five chickens, three dwarf goats and one Afghani refugee. (When the boys all had to move out of the house down the hill from us, H. got a room at my neighbor’s B&B. He comes to our house daily for meals, soccer matches on TV,  and general hanging out.)

On the pet front you already have heard about the two chicks we hatched in an incubator. As you see here, Quasimodo’s sibling – we call him (or her?) Fred – is turning into a fine specimen and doing well. He trails around after the four disinterested Wyandottes most of the time. They tolerate him.

Now meet Hector, Stella, and Vincent:

The husband is doing a better job of getting these three to warm up to him. Apples seem to help. I’m still on the fence about goats in general. They are . . . naughty. They eat the chicken feed and break things. It’s probably not a good sign that the first thing I googled about goats was their average lifespan.

So there you have our newest additions to the family. But I’m not done yet.

About two days after the arrival of the goats, the husband announced that he wanted to get a couple of runner ducks – those are the silly looking upright ones, like this:

He says he wants them because they eat slugs. But I have also heard that they are pooping machines (and we have 16 of those already . . .)

And then there’s our Sulmtaler hen – the one we call “Trump”. Four days ago she started sitting on some eggs. It looks like she will spend the next two and a half weeks hatching them . . . and who knows how many more chicks that will be? Silly girl that she is, she chose the laying box to do this – so the other chickens are squishing in there next to her to lay their own and then leaving again. We can’t take the new eggs without her pecking at us. It’s a mess. And what’s going to happen once the chicks are born? The box is pretty high above the floor. I picture these chicks tumbling out and falling to their deaths one by one. We are going to have to be ready to relocate them as soon as they hatch – if not beforehand.

There will come a day when the number of animals we have will go down again. As soon as we know the sex of our young chickens, two or three of them will be given away to friends. And good old Rooster Gustav’s days with us may be numbered too. He made the mistake of lunging at the husband – who was seriously not amused.

Resurfacing

 

It seems I have chosen Mother’s Day (or Mother’s Day has chosen for me) to be the day I return to blogging. It is kind of fitting – because it is mostly due to my mom and my mother-in-law that my life energy is coming back after a long period of hibernation and lethargy. Firstly, Mom and I exchanged old-fashioned email letters this week and caught up, making me suddenly acutely aware of how much I have missed communicating with her. It energized me just seeing her name in my Inbox. Thanks, Mom.

Then my mother-in-law invited all her kids plus spouses to the opera in Vienna on Friday, inspiring my husband to turn the occasion into a longer weekend stay. Despite one spell of bad luck (a crazy accident that will be covered in an upcoming blog post) it did me a world of good to leave the home village. Once again I became acutely aware of just how long it has been since my last getaway. Sometimes you simply have to put physical distance – kilometers or miles – between yourself and your daily worries and ruts in order to clear your head. That is what our two days in Vienna did for me. Thanks, Omili.

 

A few hours after getting home, I went to mini-seminar on wild herbs that my next-door neighbor had organized. A specialist walked with us around our neighboring field – the same route I take with my dog every day – pointing out various wild plants and flowers. She told us their medicinal powers, which parts were useful or edible (root, leaf, or blossom), and how to prepare foods or tea or creams with them. We gathered some, went back to the house and chopped them up. We mixed them into sheep’s cream cheese and yogurt. We spread it on fresh-baked bread. It was delicious.

That was yesterday. Today I wrote down all the (German) names of the plants that I could remember. Then I grabbed a basket and my dog to take my usual walk – but this time I noticed all the different wild plants I passed. I collected some again, repeating all the names I could remember. When I got home I laid them out on paper to create photographic cheat sheets in case I forgot any of it. And then it struck me . . . I could only translate two (!) of these 15 or 20 words into English. If I had been asked to name any of these plants two days ago, all of them would have been called either “weed” or “wildflower” –  i.e. one of the only two words in my English vocabulary for small green stuff that grows in fields.

I went to my laptop and fired up the google. I started typing these German names into the translator. “Yarrow”? What is that? I had never heard that word before! And if I had had to guess, I would have said it was a part of a boat. “Ribwort”? “Plantain”? I would not have recognized these as members of the English language. “Sorrel”? Isn’t that a breed of horse? “Avens”? I think that is a Norse goddess. “Ash weed”? “Vetch”? “Campanula”? Not a single bell was rung in my head by any of these words. And the final insult? – the one plant I thought I could name – the stinging thistle – turned out to be a “nettle”.

Now, I have never claimed to be Nature Girl, but this all struck me as fairly bizarre and pathetic.  Ostensibly, I have been passing these plants twice a day for thirty years without them ever having caught my attention or interest. Coincidentally, I have been powering through menopausal maladies for half a decade while about 5 different plants growing between my front door and my mailbox have been known to help ease these discomforts . . . How did all this knowledge escape me? How is it that I had almost no words to name the things I see around me every day?

Yarrow, ribwort, plantain, sorrel, avens, ash weed, vetch, campanula, nettle, thistle.

 

I assume I will continue to walk my dog around the cornfield at least once a day – this is one of my routines that I would never consider a “rut”. But from now on, I also assume I will not be plodding along obliviously, with my sights turned inward, circling around obsessively in the dark recesses of my brain. No, I will be looking at what is outside and around me, identifying green things and appreciating their existence. And I know they exist because I now have names for them.  The path of my daily dog walk has been resurfaced.

I think I’ve been resurfaced too.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Omili.

Rest in Peace, Quasimodo

 

A lot of British people I know don’t use the word “rooster”. Instead they say “c**k” – which, as you see, I am too much of a prude to even type, much less say,  (unless it’s followed by an “-a-doodle-do” or an “er spaniel”). Too bad. I soooooo wanted to start this chicken update with the sentence:

“My c**k has been a real dick lately.”

A few weeks back, Rooster Gustav started charging at me – usually from behind – squawking and wings flapping. Then he would stop just short of me and try to make himself tall. The first few times it was half-hearted and I hardly noticed, but he got increasingly closer and more menacing. I am not absolutely sure, but I think he even pecked at my rubber boot once. To be honest, it freaked me out just a bit. But then my pride kicked in. I had been fancying myself something of a poultry savant for a while, and now this dicky . . . rooster . . . was challenging not only me, but my animal husbandry reputation. I had to do something.

First I asked chicken-keeping friends for advice.  Mark, my organic farmer slash teaching colleague, told me to “whack him”. I am not sure if he meant I should hit Gustav or turn him into drumsticks and white meat. In any case, this wasn’t my style. I consulted Google:

I’ll start by saying that the Number One solution to my problem seemed to be “stew pot” (also chillingly expressed as “culling”). The second most popular and somewhat more humane (however improbable) solution was “re-homing”. (Hey! Do any of you out there want an aggressive rooster? He’s free!!) From my more kindred spirits – the type of people who not only keep chickens, but blog about them – I got conflicting advice:

Hobby Farms told me to wear protective clothing  – long sleeves, high boots, (ski mask? protective goggles?) – and then crouch down and try to get Gustav to eat from my hand.

Countryside Daily said “In the rooster world, he who runs away, walks away, or hides is the loser”. I should stand my ground, raise my arms and flap them. If that doesn’t work – I should whack him.

Happy Chicken Coop recommended the opposite. I should give Gustav space. And respect. Slow and deliberate movements were the order of the day. But I should also be prepared to whack him if necessary. In so many words: speak softly and carry a big stick.

But then . . .

Picky to Plenty tells me not to pick a fight or to run. I should not reduce myself to the level of my adversary. Instead I should repeat this mantra to myself as I slowly walk backwards away from the rooster:  “I am not a chicken. I am not a chicken.”

Backyard Chickens said to never back away from a dicky rooster. His advice went on for pages and pages and contradicted itself continually. But he was the first to recommend picking up and petting Gustav. If that didn’t work, I should whack him.

 

What to do?

Let’s face it. Stew pot, culling, re-homing and whacking of any kind were all out of the question. So far, “Kill ‘em with Kindness” had worked for me in my own human life and, gosh darnit, it would work with chickens too. Each day, as I entered the range with a pitcher full of feed and a bottle of fresh water, the chickens swirled around me, Gustav included. I made a point of holding the feed in front of his beak. After a few days of this, an opportunity presented itself. Gustav had escaped the enclosure somehow and wanted back in. My husband and I cornered and captured him and I took him under my arm. He screamingly squawked and flapped for quite some time, but I held on until he was calm and quiet – it took maybe five minutes. I talked to him and petted him and then set him on the ground by his hens. He ruffled his feathers a bit and walked away from me.

The attacks seemed to come to an end. That was easy!

– – – –

(Two days later – i.e. today)

Since beginning to write this post, my poultry-related bona fides have been challenged a second and a third time.

I mentioned in the comments of my last post that one of our chicks was born with an injury or a birth defect. He had one normal eye and one big bulging eyed. We named him Quasimodo, which turned out to be somewhat prescient. As you might have guessed, he became something of a favorite. Unfortunately, I don’t think his popularity extended into the poultry world. Today I found him lying on his side taking his last gasps.

I buried him under the weeping willow tree and marked his grave with a rock. Then I went to feed the chickens. Gustav took an aggressive flying leap at me.

Today was not my best day.

We Interrupt This Broadcast . . .

Some of you may have noticed (and some of you have commented) that I have been on a sort of blog hiatus lately and it is likely to continue for a little while longer.

I looked up synonyms for the word hiatus and found “break” and “interruption” among others, so I don’t know exactly what to call this post popping up in the middle of my silent running time, this interruption to my hiatus, this break in my break . . . but I have some exciting – literally breaking – news I wanted to share.

Remember my birthday present? The egg incubator?  Well, . . . .

TA DA!!

Yesterday we were in the middle of a braiding session, when my daughter and I heard noises coming from the incubator. Within the next hour, this little guy had made it out of his egg. An hour after that he was moving around and chirping.

He was the only one of six eggs to hatch and I went to bed worried that he would be lonely. But on a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I passed the incubator and noticed that the chirping sounded like a duet. Sure enough – a second chick was there to greet me in the morning.

 

Now let’s see if we can keep these little guys going . . .

. . .  long live the German Reich’s Chickens!!

 

Form Letter of Rejection

 

After two years of living in our village and waiting for their asylum applications to be processed, our refugee boys were just told that the home they live in is going to be closed down. Apparently it is too expensive for the government to maintain. The 18 boys still living there will have to be relocated. Dispersed. One option is a rooming house at a highway truck stop – in one half of what began as an overly optimistic brothel. (The other half will continue to be used for its original purpose.) We are working on a different arrangement for one of the boys (“H.”) who still wants to attend my husband’s school.

My husband and H. sat in the kitchen discussing his “options” now that he is about to be . . . displaced once again. They sat in their usual spots – my husband at the end of the table and H. around the corner to his left. I have seen them seated like this many times over the past months, as H. told his life story and my husband typed it into story form. They are up to page 6 now, and the story is long from over.

Mariabad – a Hazara enclave

H. was basically a refugee at birth. His young parents were already on the run from both the Taliban and his mother’s family (!) because of their honor–offending Hazara (Shiite)/Sunni love affair which had led to the birth of H.’s older sister. When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, they had to leave the country altogether. They ended up in a place called Mariabad which is a sort of enclosed Hazara settlement within the larger Pakistani city of Quetta. H.’s childhood took place here. For ten years or so, the normal elements of early life – school, sports, work, games, family celebrations – were interspersed with police raids, an ever-increasing number of bombings and kidnappings. When H. was 13, his two younger brothers were abducted and severely beaten. Shortly thereafter, his elder sister disappeared while on her way to school. H.’s parents could only suspect that the mother’s family had discovered them. They decided it was too dangerous to stay there any longer. His father left first for Australia, hoping the family could follow, but he tragically drowned in the attempt to get there. Three years after that, H. made the next attempt – this time to Iran – only to be caught, imprisoned for a few months, and then deported. He made it back to his family in Pakistan. They made their next attempt to flee (again to Iran) as an entire family and this time they were successful. From there H. and his younger brother set off toward Germany via Turkey and Greece. Once they reached Austria, they decided to stay and try for asylum here. Almost exactly two years ago, H. arrived in our village . . .

 

It was already harsh for him to find out that he would need to move once again, but then he got a second piece of bad news in the same week: his asylum rejection letter with particularly offensive content and wording:

“Concerning the Reasons for Leaving Your Native Country:

The reasons supplied by you for leaving your native country are not credible. It cannot be established that you had to fear persecution in Afghanistan based on the reasons listed in the Geneva Convention on Refugees or that you are confronted currently with a relevant situation threatening your life or limb.

In connection with the existing information of this office on the general situation in Afghanistan, it could be established beyond a doubt that, in regard to the persecution you claim, flight alternatives within that country’s borders exist which are objectively and subjectively reasonable for you.”

 

This is pretty clearly some kind of standard form letter – it doesn’t make sense in light of H.’s situation. He is like the DACA kids who came to the States as babies due to other people’s decisions. And just like some politicians in the States with their “one size fits all” solution for those kids, it seems the Austrian government is pursuing a similar policy for the refugees. Automatic rejection in the first round.

The question is why they needed two years to come up with this answer.

Fifty-six

We decided on a birthday dinner this year (as opposed to breakfast or lunch). I requested the classic steak and baked potatoes meal and it was yummy. Beforehand I surfed here and there, putzed at this or that, took two long dog walks, peeked around the house in search of a cardboard box holding my present – a new chicken or two. Couldn’t find one.

But it turns out I was right. Not only am I getting new chickens, but I am getting German Reich chickens!! Jawohl! Mensch, das ist ja dufte!!

There is one little catch . . .

The eggs are arriving by mail and I have to hatch them myself.

Wish us luck.