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.

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

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.

 

 

Loose Ends

(Kur Report – Part Seven)

 

One of my goals in these cure reports is to give especially my American friends and readers a sense of what Austria’s health care system offers to it citizens. I have found discussions about health care (and the horrors of socialized medicine) in the States mind-boggling. I can’t help feeling that if Americans knew better, they would demand better. Much better.

So, in that spirit, I want to give a full picture of what these two weeks included. (Keep in mind, that there will be one more week in April. I am only at the 2/3rds mark.) I left off at the end of Week One. Here is Week Two.

 

Day 8 (Monday): This was an easy day with only three sessions. After another round of individual physical therapy, I found myself back in the mud pack station. Luckily, I was in a different compartment and didn’t have to stare at Lederhosen and Spandex Butts. This time it was Ski Pants Knees and Climber Calves, (both with just the tiniest bit of butt).

In the afternoon there was more spinal gymnastics and I was done for the day by 2:00 pm. In the evening I signed up for an extra yoga class – which was a great workout – very little lying around, breathing and listening to the choir of gurgling stomachs while trying desperately to relax.

 

Day 9: The morning included more electro-therapy on my shoulders, a Radon bath and then a talk on mental health which dealt mostly with stress. The last one was slightly irritating because the loudest and most confidant participants kept trying to shift the conversation toward whatever their own particular problems were. I spent most of the time wondering if there were really such a thing as “positive stress”.

After lunch and another session of endurance training, I took another walk to Böckstein with a friend and this time we went to the soldier’s cemetery there. For such a small place, there were so many gravestones of young men, all dying around 1943 or 1944, i.e. at the very end of that senseless war. Cemeteries can be very poignant places.

 

Day 10 included endurance training, an ultrasound treatment, and spinal gymnastics, to which I added an evening course in Feldenkrais. This was the first day I felt tired – sort of a low point. In the evening I shared a glass of wine with my walking friend, who left the following day.

 

Day 11: My schedule was filled from 8:00 am to 16:30 pm to make up for all the free time I had had on previous days. I had my second doctor’s check-up, grew another 0.3 cm, did underwater gymnastics, and partook in some excruciating relaxation therapy (“Close your eyes. Feel your left big toe  . . . . . . . now move to your second toe . . . . . . .” It took us a half hour to think through only the left leg. Longest hour of my life.) After that was an Exercise Motivation lecture followed by an hour of Nordic Walking. I went into that last one with a prejudiced mind but ended up having fun. In the evening, I finally finished my “Kur Report – Part Six” which was three days in the making.

 

Day 12 started somewhat brutally with weight training and endurance training all before 9:00 am. Then came a quick Radon bath and I was done before noon. Good thing, too, because I then hopped on a train to Bischofshofen to meet my bff, Ly. We mostly walked around for three hours and ended up seeing ALL the sights that town has to offer.

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And that brings me to today. Day 13. An hour of weight and endurance training in the morning and a quick electro-therapy . . . and . . . that was it!

Soon I will be packing and checking out. Returning cards and keys and towels, etc. Maybe a last walk through the village. A selfie with my table-mates. I can’t leave until tomorrow for technical, insurance-related reasons – I am officially on sick leave and legally required to stay here till I’m not.

So, I’m done. For now, anyway. As an extra souvenir (along with my little pink pig), I bought a badge for my hiking stick. Normally you have to climb up mountainsides and reach lodges to earn them, but there are exceptions – like the Vienna badge my sister-in-law bought me after I rode the Riesenrad (giant ferris wheel) in a state of terror. That was a sort of big deal for me. I may not have vanquished a mountain while I was here, but I do feel a sense of achievement. In terms of my state of health, these two weeks have been an upward climb to a nicer place with a better view.

 

 

Weekend!

(Kur Report – Part Five)

 

Before I left to come here, everyone wished me a nice vacation. They were only half kidding. And they were also half right. I really didn’t expect to have as much free time as I have, but on the other hand, by the end of each day I am really exhausted. Three days of therapy have gone by since my last post, finishing off the first of two weeks. Once I handed in my completed plan this morning, it finally dawned on me that it was the weekend and I was completely free till Monday morning. Time to catch you all up on the activities – rapid fire style.

Day 4: Underwater gymnastics in the morning was nice. In the afternoon I had to attend an exercise motivation lecture. Halfway through I realized it was the geriatric version of this speech full of tips for how to manage stairs or to get out of bed in the morning. “I’m way too young for this!” I thought. In the evening I voluntarily went to another lecture on the history of this village. At least 100 names were dropped of famous people who like(d) to come here starting from Empress Sissi and ending with Hugh Grant. The speaker was a nice and very knowledgeable local lady who walked in, started talking at a rapid pace, moved from story to story without even taking a breath in between, never paused or slowed down for even a second until the final “Thank you for coming”.  I left thinking that I had just experienced this village’s second waterfall.

Day 5 had me up and doing weight training at 7:00 in the morning. Ouch. Luckily it was followed by another Radon bath, but this time I had the foresight to bring my cell phone along. I listened to Rachel Maddow who really does relax me somehow. After lunch there was yet another lecture about cures and their purpose, after which I came down with a serious case of cabin fever. Having met a nice lady in a similar condition, we arranged to take a long walk together. Here are some impressions of a place called “Böckstein”:

 

Day 6 (today) included another short ultrasound treatment and then something called “General Exercise Therapy”. That turned out to be a group walk with a bunch of extra movements added in (walking sideways, arm movements, skipping, etc.). And then I was officially done. I filled the afternoon with another walk and some swimming.

 

The three major events of the last few days can be expressed in numbers: 779, 369, and 167½.

      • 779 is the number of my room which I originally had a lot of trouble finding. That was because it is tucked away in a little space next to the stairwell and it is the only guest room on this floor. I’ve come to love this quirky little place because it is the quietest room in the entire hotel.

      • 369, I was told, is the number of muscles we used on our exercise walk today.

      • And, finally, I stepped on the scale in the medical center out of curiosity. I joked in an earlier post about wanting to get at least one of my two lost centimeters back, but I didn’t. I got one and a half of them back!

 

 

Shock Therapy

(Kur Report – Part Four)

 

The first thing I had to do in my original medical check-up was to step on a state-of-the-art machine that measured my weight and height. It spit out the results on a little piece of paper which gave me my first shock. Not the kilos, but the centimeters: 166. “I’m shrinking!!” I thought. “I have lost two whole centimeters!” I wanted them back. I suddenly had a deep yearning to stretch, but my therapy plan had other ideas. On Days One and Two, I had to build up muscles on machines, improve my endurance on bikes, and pretend to relax in a bathtub. On Day Three, the therapy consisted of a blitzkrieg style assault on my shoulders.

First came physical therapy, which was actually fantastic. The very competent woman moved, tested and massaged all of the muscles around my neck, shoulders and upper arms, giving me almost a crash course in all the stuff that is inside that section of me and which ones needed some adjusting. She told me what to look out for and showed me a couple of short exercises to do several times a day. That was followed by electro-therapy where my shoulders were zapped for 10 minutes. It felt like ants were crawling around in there. Then came ultrasound, where a little suction cup was attached to my right shoulder and then . . . I’m not exactly sure what. Finally came the warm mud packs, which everyone told me were so wonderfully relaxing. Uh oh.

I entered the little curtained room with a stretcher bed all prepared, I was grumpily instructed to lie down, positioning my shoulders onto the warm brown packs by the pillow. The therapist then squished the packs into position and then tucked the sheets hanging down to the left and right tightly around me. He said “15 minutes” and took off, closing the curtain behind him.

I lay there like a mummy with my arms pinned to my chest, staring at the ceiling and, of course my nose started to itch. I needed a distraction. I scanned the room. On the wall to the left was this huge poster:

The fact that the biker was cut off at the waist along with the perspective were somehow discomforting. I tried to imagine myself lying on a bike path high up in the mountains with this guy whizzing past me . . . but then why would my neck and shoulders be feeling so warm?

I then looked over at the right-hand wall and noticed the second poster.

The runner was also disturbingly truncated. And how was it that he was running uphill when I am already at the top? It didn’t feel right either.

I went back to looking at the ceiling and tried to find a repeating pattern in the large and small dots up there. That made me dizzy. It seemed I had no other option than to alternate between Lederhosen Butt and Spandex Butt till the curtain was finally ripped open again. It didn’t’ occur to me that I could just close my eyes.

Relaxing is just not my thing.

 

The final therapy of the day brought it to a happy end. It was spinal aerobics and I FINALLY got to stretch. I bent over and not only touched the floor, but also strained to get my entire palms to lie flat on it. I raised my arms and extended them as high as they could possibly go, reaching for the ceiling. It felt fabulous. And I think I got at least one of my two lost centimeters back.

 

A Very Nice Nicotine Nazi

(Kur Report – Part Three)

 

In an uncharacteristically confessional way, this post will deal with my lifelong battle with nicotine.

This, of course, is prompted by my mandatory attendance at a smokers’ counseling session yesterday evening – which was, I admit, exceptionally well done. But let’s backtrack a little to the beginnings . . .

I’m 18 years old and it is Thanksgiving. I’m sitting at a nearly deserted table, staring at a lot of empty chairs, crumpled napkins and the carcass of a recently devoured turkey. It’s just me, my grandparents and maybe an old aunt. All the fun people have taken off to the basement where smoking is allowed. I can hear the vibrant conversation and laughter coming from down there. I get up from my seat and meander toward those sounds . . .

That is as close as I can come to an answer when asked what got me started. It is not a perfect explanation or an attempt to attribute blame to anyone else.

For the past ten years I have been an off-again on-again smoker. I quit dozens of times for periods ranging from 18 months to 18 days to 18 minutes. Three years ago, I quit for what started seeming like forever. I got to the point where I never thought about smoking. My reflection in the mirror told me I looked the same as ever even as I kept buying larger-sized clothes. Then one day I stepped on a scale for the first time in years and was confronted with a number 35 pounds higher than I had always been. Soon thereafter, I went on the Moron’s Diet. “When those 35 pounds are gone, I will quit again,” I told myself. The moment of reaching this target weight arrived about three days before I left for this cure.

I’m a creature of habit. Some of them are good, of course. But it is the bad ones that landed me here. Not getting enough exercise. Sitting for hours and hours in rigid or crooked or poorly postured positions while writing, translating, preparing teaching materials, working on projects like slideshows and photobooks (or playing Snood while listening to podcasts). I came here fully intending to break out of these habits, the nicotine one included. I even assumed smoking would be forbidden here.

I was wrong about that.

The Hut

One of the first things I discovered here was the nicest outdoor smoking area I have ever seen. It is protected from the weather yet still airy, heated, and decorated with warm seating and blankets. It looks out over a stunning view of the mountains and town (somewhat blurred in today’s snowstorm). It also seems to attract amusing people. Whereas the other conversations I had – at my restaurant table, in various fitness rooms or waiting areas – were haltingly earnest and dealt mostly with health-related subjects, the conversations in the smoking hut were open, variable, multicultural, sometimes raucous and always amusing. Once again, I found myself meandering toward the fun crowd.

Then came last night’s lecture to which all the smoking patients were invited. From my few visits to the hut, I figured there would be about 15 people there. (Some of the smokers had already heard the talk last week.) So, I was taken completely by surprise when the room started to fill up. There must have been 50 people there. It seemed like half of the patients in the entire center were in attendance.

I had mentioned this smokers’ counseling session in my last post, prompting one commentator to rail on the “Tobacco Nazis”. I borrowed his term, edited slightly, and used it for my title.  But that is not really a fair or accurate description of the doctor who gave the talk. For instance, he began by talking about all the positive benefits of nicotine (and there are some.) Next, he explained the physiological way it works on the brain which produced some “Aha!” moments. Then he started in on the statistics. I was surprised at how little information many of the listeners had. When he asked us to guess the average age Austrian kids first try smoking, most guesses were 15 or 16. I said 13. The correct answer was 12. Most people guessed that about 30% of Austrians smoke. I said 10%. The correct answer was 25%. When he asked us how many chemicals there are in a cigarette, people mostly guessed in the hundreds. I said 3000. The correct answer was 4600. It went on in this slyly effective way for a while. The most important thing, though, was the timing of how quickly the body begins to mend once you quit. Some positive things start happening after only hours or days. The final message was that 10 to 15 years of not smoking puts one’s risk of getting certain diseases equal to a person who has never smoked. He finished off by asking us to consider using our time in the cure to slowly reduce. Maybe even down to zero before we leave. It is the optimal time and place to do so. I had to agree.

So that became my plan. If today is anything to go by, it is already working.

 

 

“Relax!”  (Kur Report – Part Two)

 

After yesterday’s post, I got a slew of comments from family and blog friends expressing concern. Am I going to be lonely or bored, they asked? Well, let me put those minds at ease – no, I won’t be bored. This is a paradise for people watchers (like me) and I am already working on a bunch of ideas for future posts, including a Groening-style “12 Types of Kur Guests” debuting my dubious drawing skills (assuming I can pull it off). There are stories coming, folks. I simply didn’t want to start this series off too snidely.

Update: It is Day Two, 10:30 a.m., and I have two of my four activities for the day behind me. In my talk with the doctor yesterday, I had requested as few “relaxation” activities as possible (whirlpool, massage, meditation . . .) and more exercise stuff. He ok’d that idea but told me there were a few things he had to prescribe. The first one came today right after breakfast and had me soaking in a bathtub full of Radon water for 16 minutes. After getting in the tub, I lay there alternately contemplating . . .

. . . the clock counting down,

 the soft sounds of “Musak – Chimes Edition”,

the poster on the back of the door in front of me

and the bright fluorescent ceiling light, all the while telling myself “Relax! RELAX!!”

 

But then the poster started drawing more of my attention. It showed a stream of water rushing over rocks. The rocks in their shapes, positions and colors reminded me of something, but . . . what was it . . . ? I wracked my brain. In the last seconds of the countdown, it hit me – it was Ötzi! – that prehistoric man they discovered high up in the Alps. There was a definite similarity. You be the judge.

The alarm went off – a loud incessant “Get the Hell Out of Here!” sound which I obeyed. I took a quick snapshot of the poster, wiped up the floor and left. I’m not sure what most people feel after soaking in a Radon bath, but I doubt that it is pride.

After my bath I had another weight training session – which I enjoy – but after lunch comes another hour of something called “Endurance training”. That don’t sound so good. In fact, the only thing that sounds worse is my fourth activity today: an evening workshop called “Smoker Counselling”. More on that subject tomorrow.

Kur Report – Part One

Sometime back in the summer, I mentioned on this blog that my application for a Kur (“cure”) had been approved. This is an offering of the national health care system here in Austria and it means that a patient spends three weeks in a health resort getting individualized treatments for whatever ails them. In my case it is the tendency for my joints to become inflamed for no apparent reason, or at least none that any of the specialists in the vicinity of Loopyville could find. At any rate, my time has rolled around and I can now report on my first full day of . . . curing.

I arrived at the mountain village near Salzburg on Sunday afternoon and was shuttled the 200 meters to the front door of the resort. I checked in, got my room key and timetable for my first appointments on Monday: a short orientation in the morning, a medical check-up in the early afternoon, a training session to learn all the fitness machines in the late afternoon, and a tour of

My room . . .

the facilities in the evening. The rest of the time – meaning most of it – was mine to do whatever I wanted with it. After dinner on Sunday (when

. . . and it’s lovely view

I met my table-mates for the next two weeks), I spent most of the evening unpacking and befriending my cute little single room. I went to bed early for me and slept surprisingly well.

 

At the orientation on Monday morning I was presented with a little plastic pig who is supposed to inspire me. I then had five hours to myself, so I took a walk down to the old center of the village and the waterfall that runs straight through it. Since this whole place was built on the sides of mountains, the entire walk consisted of steep descents and climbs. But it is a cool place. Here are some impressions.

 

The medical check-up was quick and painless, followed by another two-hour break. The first round of fitness studio exercising was fun, followed by dinner and then a free evening. Before returning to my room to write this, I picked up my schedule for the first week. I began reading it, expecting to find the pace of the therapies picking up. But from the looks of it, most of the days are going to include almost as much free time as today . . .

You all might be hearing a lot from me in the coming days.