Sunday, August 29, 2010


Well, I'm about to start work at the Vienna Staatsoper. It promises to be the hardest job I have ever done. And here, where I've shared a lot of my mind and heart with y'all - well, there will be no sharing of the job. Can't be. Homey don't play dat. That will be strange, though, because the job and the dozens of people I need to get to know and learn to work with will take up the lion's share of my energy and brainpower.

This space, however, belongs to a net of strategies designed to keep me from getting lost in all of that.  Kim Witman wrote something that scratched at me hard this week, and I hope you'll give it a look. Like her, I think that part of the reason my work is good is because I lose myself in it. However, I've also spent the last year and change getting significantly less lost. I don't want to make the mistake of forgetting to live in this city that inspired so many of the musicians who inspire me. Of course they came here for commerce, as I have done - but Vienna offers much more than that, as big-city culturally bored as it sometimes tries to appear.

For instance, in the morning when I open my window, this is what I get to see:

And today, within the city limits, we went on a stroll that looked like this:

So really, as hard as things over at Das Haus might get - how can I possibly forget to see these things? I hope I can remember if I take the time to show them to you.

So thanks for helping me live here.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

We're from Smoland

"Wir kommen aus Smoland" proclaims the poster at the Wien-Nord IKEA, and the smaller print goes on to extol the pragmatism of the place. Naturally, the sign seems to say, these frugal Swedes were bound to come up with the BILLY bookshelf and the ECKTORP line. The word Smoland hits me deep, because I'm from Smoland too, or at least my great-grandparents were. I stand in one of my era's great shopping emporia transfixed. Once Smoland was so poor that  it was hemorrhaging peasants - they come by their practical reputations honestly. Less than one hundred years ago it made more sense to Hans and Alma Larson to get into the belly of a boat than to stay home, and so they braved the three-week journey to Minnesota with their four tiny children. Somehow history makes a line from steerage to superstore, somehow I am standing here.

See, IKEA makes the way we are moving possible. Why pack up and ship your possessions, risking damage and loss, when you can outfit your apartment with new things for a fraction of the cost? So I'm walking around with a cart and a couple of yellow bags. Closet organization, bookcases, bedding, new measuring cups (because of the metric system....Royale wit Cheese...), rugs, towels - it's all here. Several hours, many steps, one VISA card and one cab ride later, MtMn and I are lugging our treasure up to our flat in the tiny lift. It takes four trips and four hours with an Allen wrench and a borrowed hammer (German word learned: ein Hammer. Srsly.), but suddenly our place seems more like home. We put stuff away, we sweep the floor, we eat chocolate as the moonlight pours in the window.

In the morning we take a stroll and he wonders: when was the last time that most construction was built to last for as long as possible? He's moved to that question by the neighborhood buildings, mostly erected 1890-1900. They are solid, standing sure after more than a century and confidently looking forward to at least another. Our age is the one that knows it can wipe itself out - or, seen from a less frightening angle, it's the age when anyone can go anywhere and do anything. Our buildings today reflect that. We won't be here long, we can't stay, we'll change our minds.

IKEA's part of that world, part of what makes it possible, within a week of your emigration, to put your shoes away in a place made just for them. It's the great displacement turned into pride and profit. I'm its eager fan even as I feel the tug of something lost. It's easy to sentimentalize a bygone era, especially living in a city full of its architectural and artistic legacy. But MtMn and I both know from our own families the hardship and heartbreak of that time, the rigorous journeys, the enormous risks. We're glad to make our moves by choice with relative ease, and we're amazed at how quickly a place can seem familiar. We've started to be proud of our ability to locate home anywhere we are. What a change from Zemplen or Smoland or Ballinasloe of a hundred years ago, when leaving home meant something so different.

Twenty years ago I visited Ha Hamneda, Smoland, with my mom and grandma, and we danced on Midsummer's Night and walked inside the farmhouse where my great-grandmother was born. A few weeks ago, my mom showed me the trunk that Hans and Alma carried to Minnesota; filled with their possessions, it was the only thing besides their children that they brought. It's still sturdy, and will still be when it becomes mine.


Friday, August 20, 2010

In der Fremde

I've been dying to write an entry here every time I sit down in a cafe with free Wifi, and each time I've been unable to begin. It's impossible to know where to start, and even as I write that sentence fragment I'm struck by how unoriginal it is, how universal this experience of displacement and search for equilibrium. I think of my many dear friends who have taken on the minstrel's life, and I'm grateful for their courage and humor and amazed by their patience.

My husband and my best friend are still asleep a few blocks away, and I don't want to stay away too long, but let me say these things:

Vienna is a land unto itself, imperially snobby and gracious down in the bone, calmly international (but not to the extent it imagines), not very German at all (in contrast to my expectations). We went down part of the Danube in a boat yesterday and the landscape's beauty caused me to gasp.

It is remarkable to live in a place that is proud of itself for its ability to provide a good quality of life for nearly all its citizens, where homelessness and hunger are seen as unacceptable. Of course, the Empire had to die and shrink to make this possible. Hm.

The operatic drama of customs and paperwork is a blessing, like having to make funeral arrangements - it keeps you moving and planning through the fatigue and confusion of your first foreign weeks.

Making dinner in a new apartment makes it home. But having Internet and a home telephone will make it even better.

I don't miss home yet, Texas or Minnesota or Michigan or New York, because I'm used to being away from all those places. It's coming, though.

Today we are going to look at Roman ruins, Biedermeyer furniture, and Nazi tanks. Tomorrow: IKEA.

Music is about to fill my days in a way it never has.

This entry sounds a little tired, which is fair enough.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vienna so far

Beautiful apartment, flowers from the realtor, kind neighbors, helpful friends, nice bank tellers, easy Anmeldung, brutal jet lag, moody and nervous (Paul too! really!), eye feastin', necessity buyin', general amazement.

I promise the next entry won't be another list.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Coffee, Facebook, and the Military Channel: it's morning for me and MtMn, our last in the USA for many months. The bags are weighed, the papers are in the paper-carrying thing, and somehow we will get to Vienna less than 24 hours from now. It's hard for my racing mind to choose its words. I do know that I am humbled and grateful when I look back on our five months of nomadic life. Time to go home.

Liebe macht die Herzen krank. Thanks for that.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Family Fragments

You might mean the other one who looks like a guy.

I'm not a hero!! I'm not a savior!!

You will not believe what they are selling at Target. 

Nobody else there approved of drinking,  of course.

(Which superhero are you?) All of them put together.

Dad, did you know that the Dark Knight is....Batman?

I knew things were different when he asked to stop at the gas station.

Ridegate 2010!

(texting) OMG Stacy and Clinton were right!

I'm hoping for school board because of Ice Cream.

Are we going to see them never again?