I Blame Bill

 

Of course it is partly my fault. Over the past year, I have allowed digital chaos to creep into my life. Thousands of school and work photos remained scattered over 5 different devices instead of being regularly uploaded in an orderly fashion onto my laptop. Work and private files were saved . . . oh, wherever. (I’ll clean it up later.) Blog posts – finished or not – were also saved willy-nilly in various dark corners of my hard drive. Backing up files was something that could be perennially put off till some later date. I’ll get to it during my next work break, I told myself . . .

I never did.

And then came the ominous news that Windows 7 would no longer be supported after January 14, 2020. A few days later I discovered that the 2/” button on my keyboard no longer worked (which might have had something to do with the water I spilled on it the previous day). I found a workaround using Insert and Symbol, but it was (and is) a pain in the asterisk. To make matters worse, I started noticing that it was taking longer and longer for my laptop to fire up in the mornings. Between the moment I turned it on and the moment it was ready to accept my password, there was plenty enough time to take the dog out for a quick walk. Between entering the password and it being ready to use, I could go take a shower. After clicking on Thunderbird, I could go make my morning coffee and still get back before the Inbox showed up on the screen . . .

I put “new laptop” on my Christmas wish list.

 

December 24th, 2019. 10:32 pm. My entire family has now gone to bed after our wonderful Christmas Eve. I plug my new super-duper laptop in and nervously push the power button. A screen appears and asks me if I want it to speak English or German. I choose English and a “Please wait . . .” message appears on the screen for a matter of seconds. Suddenly I hear a pleasant female voice.

“Hello,” she says. Out loud.

“I will be helping you through the process of setting up your laptop,” she continues. Then she asks me if I want to respond to her manually or by speaking back.

I am completely freaked out. And speechless. I just click my way through the rest of our “conversation”, feeling like a dork. I can tell she thinks I’m a loser.

Five minutes later I am immersed in the foreign-looking bowels of Windows 10 with offers of tips and random websites popping up on my screen, email notifications dinging one after another on my nearby cellphone. I am in over my head. I get the hell out of there.

Once she has gone dark, I lean back and my first thought is that my new laptop is female. In the future I’ll probably be referring to . . . her . . . as “she”. I’m pretty sure my old one was an “it”. My second realization is the horrendous amount of work ahead of me before I can make this transition. My third thought is that I should write Bill Gates a letter of complaint, asking him not only where he gets off gendering my machine like that, but also pointing out what should be obvious to him – the fact that a lot of older people also depend on computers and he’s putting us through some major stress. I’ll tell him it is his fault that the first half of my Christmas vacation is going to be spent carefully ordering all my files and readying them for the move from my old machine to my new bff. (Actually . . . more like “bf for 10” – or however many years she lasts till Bill decides to end her.) Then I will quickly thank him for all his good work in Africa and sign off with “Indignantly yours”.

 

Fortunately, the computer specialist in my husband’s school is willing to spend a few hours with me tomorrow, helping me find my way around this new terrain. He’ll show me how to install all the programs I need and to get rid of all the useless stuff that is already on there. I don’t suppose there is anything he can do about her being a girl.

 

Early Bird Special

I went out for dinner with two dear school friends last night and it was the fastest five hours of my life. They had arranged to go to a popular place that takes no reservations so we had to get there by 4:00 pm. As our plans were shaping up in a series of ping ponging WhatsApp messages, all sorts of idioms and cultural references to (mean and skimpy) old ladies popped up that were unfamiliar to me and needed explanation – finally prompting one of my friends to write “You have been gone too long.”

So, Blue Hair picked me up and we drove to the restaurant where Weenius would meet us. We all arrived within a minute of one another, but curiously, two of us spent the first half hour at a table with an empty seat while the third spent it on a bench across from the hostess station three feet away. We needed our cell phones to finally find one another. Another round of allusions to our aging processes ensued.

But at the same time, the rejuvenating magic of old friends started working. Conversation flowed fast and furiously, simply picking up where it left off last time. There was no feeling of “having been gone too long” – in fact, no time had passed at all it seemed. Giggling erupted and years started peeling off. Who is getting old? Not us! We are as immature as we ever were! And blessedly so.

The place was filling up and our consciences told us that we really should be leaving to free up the table for all the waiting customers. So we got our doggie bags and spent ten more minutes figuring out what 94 divided by 3 equals. Then we stiffed the waitress and left. Blue Hair drove off the curb with a clunk as we left the parking lot.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like . . .

“American trends take about ten years to come to us.”

I heard that statement dozens of times when I first came to Austria. And it struck me as true. It was 1984, but the younger people were still walking around in hippie garb and attitude. Stores were quaint in their lack of variety or marketing pizzazz. No one celebrated Halloween and Christmas was surprisingly uneventful. Trees were not put up till the 24th, they were only lit up once using real candles, and they were gone before New Year’s Eve. No one put up strings of electric lights outside their homes. I’m not even sure they were available in stores. There were Christmas markets, but they were cozy affairs centered more on mulled wine than on trinket or handicraft shopping.

Things have changed.

I noticed this year that when the Halloween merch was removed from stores in early November, it was immediately replaced with chocolate St. Nicks and reindeers and Santas and angels. Then one neighbor after another strung up lights until we were the only house left without them. Santas appeared on rooftops and life-sized crèches populated front yards. Mailboxes were stuffed full with letters from charities.

Clearly, American trends had come to Austria, but I didn’t realize just how fully until I went to City Hall Christmas market on my evening in Vienna.

This was a level of kitsch that even Americans would have trouble matching. Austria had not only caught up, it had surpassed us! This could not stand!

Fast forward to yesterday as I walked the daily route to this Milwaukee neighborhood’s central shopping street. Along the way is a huge house that has been under the process of gorgeous (and expensive!) renovations for the past 10 or so years, yet still seemed uninhabited. I noticed a huge Christmas tree in the front window and, it being only December 12th, I wondered at the owners’ Yuletide enthusiasm. Then I proceeded to walk past the side of the house and noticed a second tree in the next room:

In the third room there was yet another tree:

And in the fourth . . .

And, yes, there was a fifth . . .

Part of me was fascinated and plagued by the question “Who ARE these people?!” But another part was delighted. Take THAT Austria! When it comes to Kitschmas, we are still Number One!

America Report – Day (Minus) One

It hasn’t been mentioned here before (as far as I can remember) but I’m back in Milwaukee for Mom’s 90th birthday party slash family reunion. It’s 10:00 am on Day One and I have already been up for about six hours. I’ve had a pot of coffee and listened to a couple of podcasts on yesterday’s impeachment hearings, which I find oddly calming. I have taken a long walk, bought a Christmas present, and written a blog post longhand – this one – which I am now trying to type up on an IPAD. (It is my first time using this particular device and it is not going quickly.) I have also started my latest crocheting project. It is another symbolic one – a pink flamingo – to bookend the bat (-shit crazy) one I made during my last visit . . .

(screeching brakes sound)

Back up to Day Minus One.

There is nothing like flying direct on a decent airline (Austrian). Having stayed overnight in Vienna at my generous brother-in-law’s apartment with its impressive collection of single malts, I awoke at a civilized hour, had an unhurried coffee and shower and then meandered casually the two blocks to the airport train station (with its convenient check in counter where I relieved myself of my heavy suitcase. ) I arrived at the airport with plenty of time for duty-free shopping and podcast downloading and breakfasting.

The plane started boarding and, as always, the first impression was that the plane would not be full. Of course things changed. A half hour after we should have been I the air, passengers kept straggling in – most of them harried American senior citizens who had had the misfortune of being randomly selected for an extra security check. They were NOT a happy bunch. Women in a tizzy shared their stories of being “tickled”. The men were more angry and the baseball capped specimen in the seat behind me was particularly enraged. After his first sentence, the thought “Twump voter” passed through my mind. He went on with his complaining:

“This is just a third rate country trying to act important,” he said. “We should strike Austria off the list for the next trip.”

I went through a myriad of unspoken responses to this affront to my adopted country, but finally landed on “Austria says thank you”. Later I leaned my seat back at the first opportunity.

Despite delays, we made up all the lost time, the food was actually good (haven’t said THAT in years!), the landing soft, the arrival procedures quick and my bus to Milwaukee left just ten minutes after my leaving the terminal. My sister was there to pick me up, and when I brought my suitcase up to my room in her house, what did I find?

Next it was all talk talk talk talk until Rachel Maddow finally gave my sister some respite from me. Ten minutes into her A block on the impeachment hearings I was fast asleep.

It is going to be a wonderful week.

Mushroom Crowd

 

It’s become something of a tradition that we and seven other families spend a few days in mountain cabins in a place called Klippitztörl. A little googlie told me that name comes from the Slovenian word hlipica which means ʺwindy areaˮ and the Austrian word Törl which is ʺa steep rocky narrowing of valleys and pass routes across a range of mountainsˮ. You’d think that what would most excite the crowd would be the beautiful landscapes or the exhilaration of reaching rocky peaks after a long hike, but it quickly became clear that it was something else. My first clue was that everyone seemed to be hoping for rain. My second clue was how my fellow wanderers kept their eyes peeled on the ground around their feet or to the left and right of the paths. It was fungus they were after.

On Day One, I only halfheartedly joined in the fungus hunt, occasionally glancing here or there, hoping one would jump out in front of me. After two hours of hiking, here was my paltry contribution. Three tiny chanterelles:

Day Two went much better. Not only did I nab a porcini, but it was probably the biggest one found yet. And it is not like my husband helped me. Like by saying ʺC., come here . . . you might want to look over in that direction . . . no, a bit to your left . . . no, your other left . . . maybe look by the tree there . . . now right by your foot . . . watch out! Don’t step on it! . . . Yeaayy!!! Now that’s a nice mushroom! Good job!ˮ No, it was not like that at all. But he did let me in on an old fisherman’s trick when we took the picture. He told me to hold the mushroom way out in front of me and that would make it look bigger. See for yourself.

On our way home from our hike on Day Three – part of which I spent at a lodge reading while the others went all the way up to the top – we took one of the husband’s infamous ʺshortcutsˮ. After wandering around for an extra hour trying to find our way back to the original route, we chanced upon the chanterelle homeworld. It became hard NOT to find one. Believe me, I tried.

 

As you might guess, the grand finale / evening meal of our last day was a gorgeous mushroom goulash. Cooking was a group effort directed by my husband with his famous recipe.  Here it is, step by step, just in case anyone out there wants to try this. As they say in Austria – Mahlzeit!

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Spillover

 

One of the destinations of the daily 10,000 step walks my sister and I take is Atwater Park in Shorewood, where one of my favorite pieces of public art sits waiting for us. It is called “Spillover II” by a Catalan artist named Jaume Plensa (thank you, google). Take a look for yourself.

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The artist explained his use of letters by saying we use language to commune with nature and the world, or something like that, which is very nice, but I have my own ideas. I see a guy who consists of a jumble of amorphous, incomplete thoughts swirling around inside and outside of him. As he stares at the water, concerns begin to drain away, slowly emptying his faceless, everyman head. The way he sits, hugging his legs, makes him slightly vulnerable, but the upright head puts him squarely in the world. It fascinates me to think how different the impression would be if that head were bowed, making him looked scared or fetal-like. As is, he’s got more communing to do and he’s going to stick around for a while.

I get the impression he is fairly universally loved by the local people, but, of course, it wouldn’t be art if there were no controversy. Some tourist inspected him, “discovered” the secret message “dead jew” among his ostensibly random letters, and then blogged about it. Scandalous! Outrage! To jump to the end of the story, the artist graciously offered to alter his piece, exchanging a letter or two, so that it could no longer be “misinterpreted”. (Correcting my misinterpretation would probably require more major changes, so I hope Jaume never gets wind of this post . . . )

 

While on the subject of public art, I’ll add another fairly recent addition to Milwaukee’s collection – one that clearly falls at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum.

Meet the (monstrous) “Bronze Fonz”:

 

 

 

 

I think I’ll skip the interpretation of this one and move right to the scandal. Some art director complained and said he would move his gallery if the Fonz went up near it. When that made the news, the phone calls started coming. The art director then recorded some of these messages – which he called “death threats” – and put them on a website. (http://www.hotcakesgallery.com/milwaukee-bronze-fonzie/) Three of them come from 1) a homophobe who somehow sees the statue critique as an insult to the Green Bay Packers, 2) a Canadian who is now seriously considering not coming to Milwaukee, and 3) the Fonz himself (sort of). At first I was a little wary about clicking on “Listen”, but then – as I should have guessed, this being Wisconsin – they were pretty tame. (What does it mean to “end like Dahmer”?) Still, it is beyond my comprehension how some people have the inclination, energy or time to be leaving insulting messages on a stranger’s voicemail. Henry Winkler would not approve.

The end of this sad story of schlemiels (“Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”) is that some musicians remixed the messages and set them to catchy beats. They made me laugh, but now I have this silly and bizarre song stuck in my head. “Gay boy. Dahmer gay boy. Gay boy. Go away . . .”

I think I need to go back to Atwater and look out over the lake for a while.

 

Dejuvenating

Since the husband couldn’t come along on our trip to Milwaukee this year, it was up to me to get the bikes in working order for my daughters and me to use. I hauled them up from my sister’s Silence of the Lambs basement, removed the cobwebs and set to work. Tires were pumped up, brakes were checked, rust was WD40’d, chains were oiled, seats were adjusted, gears were tested. We were good to go.

Of course, one of these three bikes was my now 42 year old Takara ten-speed which I have affectionately named “The Rejuvenator”. And once again, he lived up to his name. When I got on him and started pedaling, the old magic of muscle memory kicked in immediately. He was perfection. This was how a bike was supposed to feel! I sped off into traffic like any 15 year old would, exhilarated by my newfound mobility, leaving my fifty-seven year old achy, gouty and bursitis-prone self behind in the dust.

Common sense says that a person can’t truly love an inanimate object, but I beg to differ.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering how long this magic can last. How long can those bald and ever so slightly flatulent tires hold out? His brake lines are also creaking more, the joints of his gear levers are stiffer and he is getting crankier when I shift. His handlebar tape is sagging and decomposing. His age is showing.

And what about me?  A week from now, I will take him back down to the basement before leaving to go home. At our next reunion, I will be 59 and probably as good as retired. Will I still tear around town on him when I am 61? 63? 65? Will the day come when I have to give up riding ten-speeds altogether? How will this end?

I almost hope he goes before my ability to ride him does. That a tire bursts and is too expensive to replace. Or that a part rusts through that is no longer produced. That when our relationship ends, it will not be me abandoning him. It will be his last full measure of devotion.