Ten Ten Twenty Twenty

 

I like today’s date. I like the sound and the numerical symmetry of it. Seems like a day to do something with. Something memorable. Maybe start something new or end something that has gotten old. Or both.

To get some inspiration, I turned to the Google and quickly arrived at the NationalDayCalendar.com website. Here’s what I found:

Apparently, angel food cake, handbags and costume-swapping all have their own holidays. I wasn’t aware of that, maybe because none of these things particularly interest me. I also don’t decorate cakes, play chess or ride motorcycles. All that leaves is yarn and mental health, but, fortunately, there is currently no crisis in my life for me to crochet my way through.

I would like to know, though, why there is a coffee stain on the calendar. And why is it circling the 11th instead of the 10th? And why do the week rows on this calendar start on Tuesdays and end on Mondays? These are mysteries I would like to get to the bottom of.

Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

 

Mansplainers

(Kur Report – Part 9)

 

Except for sporadic traveling sisterhoods (i.e. small groups of housewives who use the health care system to arrange biannual free vacations together), we cure guests all come here alone. That means part of the experience includes finding new temporary friends. Last time I was lucky to meet a lovely woman to take walks with as well as the boisterous, multi-cultural, and interesting crowd who gathered in the smoking hut on the terrace. This time the pickings were slimmer and more homogeneous.

I remember learning in a high school Psychology class (at that time, to my amazement) that the number one determining factor in the formation of friendships is proximity. The girl who lives across the street or sits next to you in homeroom is more likely to become your friend than a less accessible girl who shares all your opinions and interests. It’s the same thing here.

On arrival, I gravitated toward the terrace and immediately met two perfectly pleasant Austrian women. The next few times I came they were in the company of three or four middle-aged+ men who all talked loudly, a mile a minute, and often at the same time. The few times the women said anything, the men took up the topic and shared their vast knowledge, often repeating what the woman had just said as if it were their own original idea. My visits to their table were mostly brief and taciturn.

Last night, I actually sat down and stayed for a while. For an hour I was instructed on a whole variety of subjects – from the secrets of growing balcony flowers to Austrian property rights, from corona virus to bartending, from various Austrian B-celebrities to the “refugee problem”, from the probable causes of to the cures for my bursitis attacks . . . With my irritation factor rising steadily, one of them began informing me about the best way to learn English. I briefly considered mentioning that he was now entering my area of expertise.

Clearly, however, my voice was too thin to be audible to them. I needed some assistance from a more powerful one.

I waited for an opening. It came along fairly quickly when someone mentioned music. They were trying to remember the name of the man who sang “What a Wonderful World” and I just happened to a have a video of my daughter singing that very song on my cell phone. I pushed “Play” and handed the cell to one of them saying “That’s my daughter.” They slowly passed it around.

The mansplaining ended abruptly. For the next half hour, we talked about music and international adoption and racism. They looked me in the eyes and asked me a  lot of questions. They listened to the answers. Two of them shared stories about non-white members of their own extended families.  They became people and the conversation became a nice one.

Thanks, Mitzi.

Things Change

 

There have been some developments in the things I related in previous posts, so I want to update them in a somewhat rambling and random way, starting with:

Remasking

After a lot of speculation and delays, the government here has gone ahead and reinstated the national mask wearing order for stores, banks and post offices. Despite the starting date being set for today (Friday), many people began earlier – as in right away after the announcement, including us. Two days ago, we spent almost 3 hours in IKEA getting our daughters furnishings for their apartment. It was the longest time I have ever spent in a mask. I found it surprisingly suffocating. Then it occurred to me that long before Covid, just being in an IKEA with its massive crowds always made me feel that way, mask or no mask. Anyway, we don’t know the true reason behind or the end date of the current policy, but the general opinion among friends is that the government decided it was necessary to remind the population about how we should be behaving. With things opening up, we had gotten too relaxed about social distancing, etc.

 

Cure Continuation – With Conditions!

Speaking of opening up, the health center I went to for my cure can now start taking patients again. I just got the dates for my third cure week which was cancelled during the lockdown – it begins next Wednesday already. When the confirmation came, there were three extra forms attached about all the Covid restrictions and regulations. I had to sign them (i.e. basically swear to follow the rules) and send them back. I have to arrive there by 10:00 am on the first day in a mask, get a Covid test, and then self-isolate in my room for the rest of the day till the results come in (usually early evening the same day, they say). Masks are to be worn indoors at all times. I am not allowed to go to any other restaurants or cafes in the town. I can’t socialize with anyone who does not live in my household – so that means everyone – and I can’t have visitors. The list of rules goes on and on . . .

It is hard to imagine that this week will be as therapeutic as the first two were. On the other hand, I have been saying that I don’t know a single person who has been tested and now, in just five more days, I will know one person. (I hope they aren’t still sticking swabs way up noses.) I imagine y’all will be hearing my thoughts as I sit in my room alone waiting for the results. It’s a good thing, too, that this will not be the only travels of the summer.

 

Staycation

The onset of summer vacation was delayed this year as the first week included three somewhat obligatory social gatherings with my coworkers during which all the tensions and melodrama and plot twists of the school year were rehashed ad nauseum. So, instead of the usual end-of-the-year, 1-day system crash (traditionally spent on the couch in the company of a box of aspirin, a pukey bowl and the remote control), I went through a prolonged sort of joyless malaise with no travel plans and no energy to come up with ideas about how to fill the seven weeks stretching out ahead of me. I finally booted myself out of it a few days ago, starting with a call to the health center to schedule my cure week. That quickly led to plans to follow it with a visit to my aunt and uncle in Tyrol. After that, there will only be a week at home before taking off for our annual hiking trip in Carinthia. Then there will be just one more week at home before . . . no . . . it can’t be . . . don’t want to even think about it . . . Something seems wrong about the math here. Within a day, the summer went from being a long empty expanse to being all filled up with plans. I’m confused.

 

Clutter Box

I guess it is a good thing I didn’t plan any major projects for the summer. Instead, I dove into one of those little things that has been on the back of my mind for months. Everywhere you look in my house – on every shelf or piece of furniture or windowsill or counter space – there is . . . stuff. A small proportion of the . . . stuff . . . is actually put there for decoration. The vast majority, however, is supposed to be somewhere else, but just got left there by someone in this household. Every so often, I go on a decluttering rampage and begin sweeping all these surfaces clean, sorting all the stuff, returning some of it to where it belongs, throwing some of it away and finding new places to store the rest.

When I am done, there is always about a handful of undefinable things left over. I can’t throw them away. They look like they could be part of something, but who knows what? I imagine some future time when the husband asks me “Have you seen the gizmo for my gadget? It’s a small curvy piece of black plastic with some holes in it and a doohickey on it?” And I, having tossed it out, would have to avoid eye contact while saying, “I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about! Never in my life have a seen anything remotely like what you are describing!”

So, instead, I throw these thingamajigs in the “Clutter Box”, just in case. I tell myself that one day I will make a piece of modern sculpture out of it all. I will title the finished product “Bob” (and then keep it in a plastic box in the basement storage room).

 

While doing the above, I also managed to somehow declutter my mind. I got rid of or stored away all the little pieces left there by other people during this crazy year. I cleared a path out of malaise and into the enjoyment of summer.

 

Hope for the Future

Not only is the future looking brighter now, it is looking brighter orange! On a whim, I checked my junk food website and was delighted to see my favorite thing in the world is back in stock and ready to be delivered. I pounced. With any luck, they will arrive before I leave for my cure. In the case that all the Covid regulations ruin the week, it would be nice to have a back-up therapy at hand.

 

 

Life Among the Lemmings

 

There have been murmurings lately about masks being required again in the future – but so far only in certain areas  – like at bars in tourist hotspots or in the few communities where there have been local outbreaks. Two of those were traced back to church services – and in one, the congregation apparently not only sang and danced and hugged and kissed, they also all drank out of the same communion goblet. (She says, shaking her head.) So now everyone within a 10- or 20-mile radius is now in quarantine. I assume the Viennese will also have to go back to wearing masks in public spaces, being so densely packed together AND permeated with tourists. But where I am, the lockdowns and mask-wearing and disinfecting are all receding in our memories. People have gone back to regular habits with the exception of cheek-kissing and handshaking. (Replaced by hugging and elbow-bumping, respectively, which, if you ask me, are both improvements.) The only places left where masks are required are pharmacies and public transport.

So, it felt a bit strange last week to have to dig out my mask and put it on while riding the train and then the streetcars in Graz. In both cases, I found it comforting to look around and see all the other passengers wearing one too. There is a certain pressure toward social conformity here that apparently keeps most everyone in line. When the lockdown came, it was estimated that something like 90% or 95% percent of the population complied – or maybe I should say they respected it. I don’t remember hearing about any mask altercations in stores. No one showed up mask-less at the parliament with signs and guns to shout about freedom. There was one sorry, sparsely attended protest, but the people speaking there couldn’t seem to agree on whether masks, vaccines or 5G networks were the biggest threat.

 

I keep wondering what all this says about us. Are we all lemmings following the pack? Are we somehow . . . less free?

Or simply more unified?

I was impressed from the start how the government coalition of Conservatives and Greens took charge and spoke with one voice. Daily press conferences kept the population well and honestly informed while preparing us carefully for the next steps to expect. Experts in every area of communal life (health system, welfare system, school system, public transport and public safety, banking, tourism, and commerce . . .) came up with thoughtful and detailed policies which were constantly updated and adapted. Just to give one example, when the schools closed down and switched to distance learning, my husband was asked by the school board how many and which of his students did not have access to a computer and/or internet at home. There were only two in his school. A few weeks later, packages arrived at their doors with brand new HP laptops inside along with a letter saying they should be returned to the school at the end of the year. I was amazed that someone in the government even thought about these kids, much less arranged for a solution in such an efficient and trusting way. You’d think they would have a thousand other more pressing issues to deal with.

It was the same for me when I had my two months of unemployment. I was dreading the humiliation and bureaucracy, but it turned out that I only needed 10 minutes to fill out a very unobtrusive online form and click “Send”. Three days later, an already complete application for benefits arrived in the mail. I had to fill in three short missing pieces of information (such as my bank account number for the money transfers) and sign it. I mailed it back the same day, postage free. Two months later, I sent a one sentence email informing them that I was employed again. That was the entirety of the “red tape”. Not exactly a socialist nightmare.

 

There was one incident in Graz where I encountered  “free” people. After taking a seat in a streetcar, I looked up and noticed an unmasked couple across from me. They looked familiar. I think they were a part of a loosely organized group who disperse themselves regularly among the various small train stations along my route and then spend the day asking commuters for money. I’ve had (very short) interactions with some of them for years. And so, here in the streetcar, I was not surprised when the man immediately asked me for money. I gave my practiced response of staring him in the eyes silently for six seconds and then turning away. (My alternate reaction in cases when a child is with them is to point at the child and ask why she isn’t in school. Both of these seem to work pretty effectively.) Five minutes later, the ticket checkers showed up. They approached the couple. Did they have tickets? No. Did they have masks? No. (The checker opened his bag, took out two masks and handed them over.) Did they have identification? No. Did they want to buy a ticket now? Yeah, maybe. Did they have money? No. During the entire conversation, the checkers remained calm and polite, even friendly. At that point we had reached the final stop and we all got off. I never found out how the situation resolved itself. But I am 99.9% sure no one ended up on the ground or in handcuffs. I am also sure that I will be passing these same people again in some train station or another next year, and the year after that.

 

With such catastrophic numbers and trends in the US news each day, this seems like such an insignificant little story, so it has taken me a long time to figure out why it has been on my mind. On the one hand, I DO believe that people here in Austria are generally under more pressure to conform. But the streetcar incident also shows a measure of tolerance and accommodation for those who don’t. This is a well-governed place and, especially lately, I’ve been appreciating that fact a whole lot.

 

 

Still Here

 

There are about two dozen people scattered across the globe who might have noticed that I have been absent from WordPress for a while. But then, it is exactly these people who also know why.

June is the cruelest month for teachers here. Particularly cruel in my school and in the era of Covid-19. Particularly cruel for an American watching helplessly from afar as her country suffers.  Unnecessarily.

In the midst of all the chaos, I HAVE written the occasional post – and then not posted it – mostly because it was, in the end, essentially a rant.

One was titled: “America! Please! Wake Up and Smell the Mental Illness!”

One was titled: “Parents! Raising your Children is YOUR Job!”

One was titled: “How Covid Killed the Hummingbird”

One was titled: “Sick of the Dick’s Shtick”

One was titled: “Dead Brain Walking”

One was titled: “Goat in a Tree”.

Actually, the last one was kind of inspiring. It began with something I observed while standing on my screen porch, drinking my morning coffee.

Background info: There was a single apricot tree that unfortunately ended up inside the area we fenced off for the goats. Upon arrival, they quickly killed it by eating off all of its bark within their reach. It stood there afterwards, dead, and unnoticed by both goat and human.

Until one day  . . .

 

There is some kind of metaphor here, but I am not sure what it is. I suspect it has something to do with “fruitless endeavors”. And that there are things you can do that bring no rewards whatsoever, but you do them anyway because you can and because that is who you are.

In my last post, I was a “Karen”.

In this one, I am a goat.

Progress.

 

 

The Anarchy of the Chicken

 

I brought my morning coffee out onto the screen porch today only to look down and see the door to the chicken yard wide open. About half the flock had gone through it and were milling around and looting the vegetable and flower patches – places they had no business being. Still in my bathrobe, I quickly donned my rubber boots and left the house to quell the insurrection. As I came down the garden steps, all the chickens, including the ones who had stayed inside all came running toward me with their sharp beaks and superior numbers. It freaked me out a bit, but I told myself “All they want is their equal rights to food and water.” I had been slow to wake up and was the source of their current hunger. And I could fix it.

They milled around me as I filled a pitcher full of corn kernels and then scattered it inside their yard. Half of the chickens had the sense to run back inside through the open door. I corralled the rest of them in with some careful blocking and quiet shoo-shooing. Once order had been re-established, I surveyed the flock to make sure they were all present and accounted for and that none had been harmed. I was especially happy to see all four chicks doing well.

Of course, I had other options. I could have sicced the cats on them. I could have furiously nabbed the wayward chickens one by one and tossed them back inside. I could have decided to build a bigger, nastier fence to keep them penned in (or out, as the case may be). I could have cowered in the basement in case they made it all the way to the front door of the house while hysterically phoning friends and telling them to reassert my dominance. I could have tweeted angrily, calling them “thugs”. I could have had someone else clear them out brutally and then walked to the henhouse with a copy of “The Backyard Chicken Bible” held upside-down and posed for a picture. I could have proclaimed myself the Law-and-Order Chicken Queen.

 

But it turned out the way of understanding, kindness, and sharing was the better one. I gathered four eggs today and there are surely a lot more to come.

 

 

 

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Meme

I apologize in advance for the following post.

I realize that everyone is tired of toilet paper memes, but I seriously can’t think of anything else to write about. My only memorable achievement of late was performing a double leg amputation on a penguin.

SO, under the motto “If it makes you laugh, share it!” I just have to show what I spotted in the supermarket yesterday:

Now I guess I could imagine why someone might want their toilet paper to be stylish and elegant (or “ellegant” – they can’t seem to decide), even if it is only used for three seconds and then flushed.

Harder to understand is why person would want it to be romantic and superdurable.

Any theories?

 

Finally, in my defense, I‘ll add that I think he will like these much better:

 

Don’t Treadle On Me

 

I think it is important that the world knows something. I own one of these now:

It is called a treadle hammer (or so google tells me) and the husband surreptitiously acquired it yesterday while professing to be out on a foray for bear’s garlic with our neighbor. I wondered briefly why they needed his horse trailer for this excursion. Now I know. When they got back, the husband sheepishly confessed the truth and then showed me our new possession. I stared at the thing and in that moment, it finally dawned on me: I am married to a serial hobbyist.

This realization really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. While organizing the basement storerooms last month, most of the work involved schlepping all of the husband’s (former) hobby paraphernalia from one place to another. Evidential remnants of his ever-shifting interests are everywhere in this house: the grape press and still acquired during his wine- and schnapps-making days, the kayaks and windsurfing sail and parachute left over from his various flirtations with extreme sports, shelves and shelves full of books on the perfect golf swing, cicada fish aquariums, woodworking, knife-making, bread baking, photography, mineral collecting, magic tricks, gardening, Asian cooking, etc. etc. etc. There is a self-made meat smoker on our front porch, a collection of old post-WWII bicycles under our back porch, a pile of Vespa parts in the basement along with enough fishing tackle and rods to equip an entire Boy Scout troop. I could go on . . .

But back to the treadle hammer. This new acquisition resulted from the husband’s latest interest, which I foolishly encouraged by gifting him a weekend seminar in blacksmithing where he made his first knife. He has been designing and building his own forge for the past few weeks, and now, with his new machine, he is planning where in our garden to set up shop. I assume there is an anvil somewhere in my future, too. (Sigh.)

After inspecting the machine, I went back to my laptop and was immediately confronted by this image, followed by a second sudden realization:

They’ve done it. I had begun to doubt the existence of the proverbial “rock bottom” (there seemed to be an unending supply of new lows), but these Twumpian Tea-Party-Offshoot protesters have finally managed to hit it.

 

If it were possible for fingers on a keyboard to sputter and stammer, mine would be doing it as I struggle to express my utter disgust. Is this woman ignorant of the Nazi sadism that led to these words being cast in wrought iron and hung over the entrances to concentration camps? Or worse, is she aware of that brutal history and nevertheless displaying her “clever” twisted word play and American flag-muzzle for the world to see? Either option is shameful.

Unfortunately, her stupid cardboard sign and my husband’s new toy are now inextricably connected in my brain. There is really no reason for it other than the timing of my seeing them. Or maybe it’s the similarity of the words tread and treadle, the first of which was on the Gadsden flags that Tea Party Old waved around.

One thing is clear, though. This woman and her compatriots are in dire need of a new hobby.

 

Sorbus Terminalis

 

A visiting botanist once told me that one of the trees on our property was a very rare and special sort. The news gave me a fleeting appreciation for the thing. (As I have mentioned several times in this blog, no one would ever call me “Nature Girl”). But when the tree was destroyed in a storm a few years ago, I was sad and missed its shade. I had forgotten what kind of tree it was by then, so I wrote a blog post (“Goodbye, Tree”), asking my green-thumbed blog friends to help me identify it. Unfortunately, you all were pretty useless. I then forgot about it.

Well, I just ran into that botanist and had the presence of mind to ask him again about that tree. I give you . . . (drum roll) . . .

the Elsbeere

(aka Wild Service tree, aka Checker – or Checkers or Chequers – tree, aka Sorbus torminalis)

A little googling told me that this truly is a rare tree, its wood is prized, and its berries are used in cooking or to make one of the most expensive types of schnapps there is. Hundreds of years ago, the fruits were considered to have medicinal value – torminalis means “good for colic”. It is also good for bees. It was named “Tree of the Year – 2011” by a German forestry association.

These trees usually live for 200-300 years, but mine was ripped apart by a storm at the ripe old age of 15.

Darn! Now I really miss the thing!

 

After writing all of the above, I went back and reread the old post. A very earnest commenter had suggested (among many other things) “Wild Service Tree” which I apparently pooh-poohed offhand. A later commenter (Hi, Alison!) commiserated with the first: poor girl, she wrote, “she really thought you cared”. (Alison has had my number from the start.)

Clearly, I have appreciation issues.

Goodbye, Wild Service Tree.

 

Sorry Life Stories

 

After reading a blog post that she really liked – but one that got little attention – my sister pointed out to me that it is perfectly okay to repost from time to time. Especially when life events aren’t conducive to inspiration. That is certainly true right now. My decision to go shopping this morning in the village store rather than the big supermarket doesn’t really lend itself to storytelling. I also doubt that anyone out there is particularly interested in how I cleaned out my refrigerator today, or how much I miss my cleaning lady. Besides, I already covered those topics years ago . . .

. . . which gave me an idea . . .

As I reread this post from 2016, there were a few added surprises. One is that my mom commented on it – something she rarely does. Another comment came from a stranger who also announced she was now following me. It was Joan, aka “42”, who has since become one of my very favorite and core blog peeps. Finally, it struck me that life truly does keep spiralling back on itself – everything here has become relevant again – but with an added corona twist.

So . . . enjoy! (Or re-enjoy!)

 

Trek*

My cleaning lady and I don’t talk a lot. Partly it’s because her German is quite limited, her English is nonexistent, and my Hungarian consists of hello, goodbye and “one coffee please thank you”. Usually when I say something to her, she just smiles, laughs a little and agrees. So we have conversations like this:

“How was your week?”

“Yes, yes.” (Little laugh).

Or, today:

“J., you don’t have to do anything in Mitzi’s room today. It’s a disaster zone. Just shut the door and forget about it.”

“Yes, ok, yes.” (Little laugh.)

She then started on the upstairs bathroom while I did the kitchen – the other disaster zone she doesn’t have to deal with. As I was sorting through the vegetable and fruit baskets, removing all the things that were no longer edible, my cleaning lady came in with a huge collection of dirty, crusty dishes and glasses…

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