Thursday, December 5, 2013

Weekly Interlude 25: Krampus Is Coming to Town

A giant chair in the 21st district
I hope Krampus doesn't come after me because it's been such a long time since I posted a blog entry! Krampus, St. Nick's demonic companion who comes after bad children and carries them away in his sack (or flogs them with rusty chains), doesn't like excuses; but in my defense, I will say that I was living in the 21st district last week (the northernmost district in the city, on the other side of the Danube), and I spent all my time either working or commuting without internet.
A look down the main road of the 21st

For reasons that aren't important for this blog, Eliza and I had to move out of our apartment for eight days last week. She lived in the western part of the city with a friend, and I stayed with the family of my friend who's studying abroad in France. It was so nice to live in a house with a family--the decorating, the order, the home-cooked meals. It was a nice precursor to what awaits me when I go home (IN 1.5 WEEKS!!!).

The snowman Lillian and I made together!
The first full day in the 21st district, I took a bike ride with Andi (the mom) and had a nice view of one of the lesser-explored districts. The Marchfeld canal runs through this district and up into Niederösterreich (beyond the border), and I can officially say now that I've ridden a bike in Lower Austria, the largest province in the country. The 21st district itself is rather industrial-looking. Definitely not one of the most attractive places. Every day, I took a tram and an S-Bahn out to Perchtoldsdorf, rounding out the whole commute at one hour and 20 minutes. It was alright for a week, but remind me to always live close to work in the future.

During my time in the 21st, it snowed! Apparently, it never snows very much in Vienna, especially in the city center, and when it does, it typically melts right away. Well, perhaps my holiday enthusiasm is infecting even the weather gods because it snowed--count it--three times last week! One day, it really stuck, too, so Lillian and I made a snowman at her kindergarten. (Since I don't carry around carrots in my backpack, as she was hoping, we had to improvise and use pretzel sticks for the face.) My first Schneeman of the year!
A very blurry dreidel

Continuing in the holiday spirit, Musical Munchkins is preparing for its concert this Sunday. We've had three rehearsals with the band already. If I pretend that I'm not jamming out with a jazz band to "Looby Loo" and "Six Little Ducks," it turns out to be quite fun. The guys in the band are great, so even though rehearsals were all over three hours and we teachers don't get paid for any of it, it's a good time.

Hanukkah, Day 1
This year is the first year I've ever celebrated Hanukkah with anyone. Eliza is Jewish, so we have a small, silver Menorah and multi-colored candles, which we light every night. Fire safety first! The first night we tried this, we set the Menorah on a baking tray, and I stood ready with a glass of water--which, in fact, I needed to use when Eliza almost burned herself and dropped the match onto the tray. Tssss. Since we weren't living together for the beginning of Hanukkah, we started celebrating on December 1, when we got back into the apartment. Is that sacrilegious of us? It's a beautiful holiday, though, and I've loved learning the story behind it. I also learned how to play the dreidel game, so WATCH OUT, family, I'm teaching you when I come home!

The Christmas market at Schönbrunn
I've now been to at least six Christmas markets, and my mug collection is up to three. On Monday, I went Christmas shopping for my family, and let me just say, they're cleaning up this year. My checked bag will be chock-full of gifts; here's hoping the airport people don't search it and confiscate anything! Today, my goal is to finish present-shopping and plunk down in a café. Did I mention that Lillian's gone for a week at her grandma's house? Oh, the things I can do in all my free time now! Practice, shop, drink Wiener Melange...
Lillian - caroling? :)

Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt
Meanwhile, tonight is Krampusnacht ("Krampus Night"), which means you'd better watch out because Krampus is coming to town. In Alpine folklore, Krampus is St. Nick's beast-like, demonic counterpart. Where St. Nick rewards all the good children with presents on December 6 (the Feast of St. Nick), Krampus comes out the evening before and punishes children who have been bad (see kidnapping and rusty chains mentioned above). I asked Gerhard about this, as he grew up in the central province of Austria, and he laughed, saying Krampus is the way Austrian children are kept in line. It makes coal in your stocking look like the better end of the stick, doesn't it? Around the time of Krampusnacht, there's also a Krampuslauf. Basically, people dress up like Krampus, get drunk (typically), and run through the streets. I'll have to keep my eye out for that...

If you are ever at all compelled to come visit Vienna, I highly recommend you come during the Advent season. There is nothing like Christmas in this city--the lights, the Punsch, the markets, the concerts. The universe seems to be making up for the last four finals-ridden Decembers I've had. Give me any Grinch, and I'd bring him to Vienna!

And a little Christmas cheer for you here. :)

A Christmas market in the shadow of St. Stephen's

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekly Interlude 24: The Great Toilet Plunger/Christmas Market Quest

OBI, the Home Depot of Vienna
Last week, I left a toilet plunger on the S-Bahn.

Let me backtrack. The bathtub in my apartment hadn't been draining very well for a while, so Jennifer and Gerhard loaned me their plunger to try and fix the problem. I was tired that evening when they dropped me off at the train station to go home, so I got on the S-Bahn thinking, "Now, don't forget to take the plunger when you get off!" And what did I do? Forgot the plunger. So some lucky person (or the trash or the Lost & Found) scored a plunger last week!

Just to put public transportation in Vienna in perspective, the U-Bahn is the subway, the Straßenbahn is the tram system, and the S-Bahn is the train system that takes you from Vienna out to the suburbs. (The S stands for schnell, which means "fast.") The S-Bahn I was on that night went all the way to Laa an der Thaya, a town far north of Vienna. So basically, this Traveling Plunger could be all the way at the Czech border by now.

The Am Hof Christmas Market
The Am Hof Christmas market
Needless to say, I needed a new plunger because drain problems don't fix themselves. After a little help from a friend, I found the Home Depot of Vienna, called OBI, and set off on an adventure to find it in the south-east corner of the city. It lay between two U-Bahn stops, and I chose the one that looked more direct on my map. What I didn't know was that the sidewalk ends on the side of the street opposite OBI, making it impossible to cross the faux-traffic lanes to get to the orange building (that stands, literally, right across the road; how frustrating!). Instead, I had to cross a different street, walk 2/3 of the way over to the other U-Bahn stop, cross the road again, walk back up the street, turn left along a curving side street, and march across the parking lot. This would have been a little absurd even if I hadn't been wearing a pair of nice fashion boots with heels; I hadn't worn heels since I left in June, so my feet were in so much pain by the time I got to the store.

I now know three words for toilet plunger in German: Stöße (shter-seh), Ausguss (ows-gooss), and, my personal favorite, Saugglocke (zowg-glawkeh). Plus, despite my broken, blistered feet, this story has a happy ending -- my shower drains perfectly!

Baubles at a Christmas market
A tree at the Rathausplatz
Besides scouring the city for plungers, I've also been searching for Christmas Markets, which opened on Friday. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and my excitement over it has skyrocketed since a) Austrians don't have Thanksgiving so it's totally acceptable to delve into Christmas before December 1, and b) Vienna is the ideal city for Christmas lovers. I realize that people back in the States are trying to focus on Turkey Day, and many people won't even acknowledge Christmas until December, but seeing as I won't even be living in my apartment for Thanksgiving week (a temporary displacement), Christmas is the way to go for me. Here, look, I'll celebrate Thanksgiving: what am I thankful for? Christmas.

I wish my camera could capture the magic of Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) in Vienna, but it simply can't. Just imagine wooden stalls decorated with lights, featuring beautiful artisan crafts and masterpieces, holiday trinkets, traditional Tirolian food, Austrian gingerbread, and (best of all) warm holiday drinks. The air smells like onions, sausages, and mulled red wine (Glühwein); you can stand at tall, wooden tables and enjoy your food and drink while chatting with friends.

Austrian pastries and Christmas drinks
My first Christkindlmarkt mug!
When you pay for a drink at these Christmas markets, you can either keep the mug (which is unique to each market) or you can return it and get a few euros back. I kept my mug from the Rathausplatz; I didn't take a picture, but it's white with a Christmas tree, the golden Rathaus, and an angel, all connected by blue music notes on a staff. It's very festive. The drink I had in it? Hot chocolate, like no other hot chocolate you've ever tasted. The man at the stall scooped a ladleful of chocolate from the chocolate fountain into my mug, mixed it with warm milk, and topped it with Schlagobers (whipped cream). Swiss Miss, you've been benched.

A stall at the Rathausplatz
Baubles at a Christmas market
The traditional Christkindlmarkt drinks are Glühwein (mulled red wine) and Punsch (warm fruit juice, such as grapefruit, with rum). Good thing I have a few more weekends here so I can try the Punsch and perhaps collect some more mugs. This is already shaping up to be a better holiday season than my last four -- it's hard to get excited about the holidays when you have finals right beforehand.

My life at the moment seems filled with the mundane (toilet plungers) and the extraordinary (Christmas markets) -- an exciting combination that keeps me on my toes!

The Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekly Interlude 23: The Spirit of Discovery

A Christmas window on Kärntnerstraße
This has been a delightful weekend filled with friends (old and new) and holiday cheer. On Friday, two of my friends came from Graz and the Czech Republic, and then this afternoon, I met up with a girl who is studying abroad with IES (the study abroad program I used in 2012). Last night, I spent three hours with my coworkers at Musical Munchkins, preparing for our winter holiday concert. Add in some ukelele playing, some Christmas carols, and some Apfelstrudel, and we have a pretty great weekend.

Holiday lights (unlit) on Kärntnerstraße
My friend Marjorie, who teaches English in the Czech Republic, recently started a blog called The Ukelele Diaries. She's planning to take a video of herself playing the ukelele and singing a different song in every city she visits, beginning with Vienna. She asked me if I'd like to sing in her video, too, so click here to see us singing "Edelweiss" at Schönbrunn Palace! Filming credit goes to my friend Lizzy, an English teacher in Graz. It was scary, at first, to plunk down in the middle of a public place and start singing/strumming, but after a few takes, I became more comfortable. (Please ignore the squinting; it was such a sunny day!) A few people stopped to listen or smiled when they walked by, though most people just ignored us or admired from a distance. That's okay, though, because the experience, ultimately, was just for us. It was a remarkably liberating experience--and empowering--to make music in a public place. It also inspired me to explore my burgeoning interests in folk music and improvisation, so for the last two days, I've been playing more piano and experimenting with some Irving Berlin.
A hole-in-the-wall church

The window display at Mühlen Brot
After singing at Schönbrunn, we took the U-Bahn back to the city center and strolled up Kärntnerstraße, the main shopping thoroughfare that leads directly to St. Stephen's Cathedral in the heart of the city. City workers were putting up the holiday lights over the street, which was very exciting to watch. I'll have to go to the city center sometime after 4:30 p.m., when it's dark, to see them lit up. We then stopped by Mühlen Brot, a very small bakery that sells the BEST apple strudel (Apfelstrudel) in the city. I bought a piece and savored it as I made my way to work.

Teaching on Friday went well, and I felt for the first time since beginning in September that I did every single class justice that day. My last class went particularly well, and I'm so proud of myself. Normally, when I teach, I feel completely out of my comfort zone--but, as my voice teacher at Ithaca College used to say, fake it 'til you make it! This has basically been my mantra since June, and I finally felt like it was paying off on Friday.

Delicious sweets at Gerstner Café
A Lipizzaner horse
On Saturday afternoon, the Musical Munchkins staff had a three-hour meeting to work on the Holiday Music Party, which takes place in early December. Since it's the tenth-year anniversary of MM, the party will be held at Porgy & Bess, the famous jazz club in Vienna. Not only will we be leading the children in group versions of songs such as "Five Little Monkeys" and "This Old Man," we'll be doing so with a jazz band playing in the background! Saturday was mainly to meet with the arranger, Mickey, and to figure out the order and arrangements of all the songs. Students playing and/or singing solos also stopped by at various intervals and performed with Mickey and his guitar. Later, the teachers worked out their own solos. If you remember, I'll be singing "Sleigh Ride," which I'm very excited about. Working out jazzy riffs will also fall under my ukelele-inspired quest to tap into folk and improv roots. After spending three hours listening to "All I Want For Christmas Is You," "White Christmas," and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," I am READY for the holidays to begin! (I believe the Christmas markets open next weekend...)
1st district Vienna on a Sunday

St. Stephen's Cathedral, city center
This afternoon, I met up with an IES student (a friend-of-a-friend situation). We bought lunch at a Würstelstand (sausage stand) and then roamed the first district for a bit. The weather was milder than frigid, rainy Saturday, though not quite as nice as sunny, balmy Friday. We passed the Spanish Riding School, where the famous Lipizzaner horses perform and then looped around the Ring (the main street encircling the first district) before popping into the Staatsoper to pick up a November Spielplan (schedule). Even though it was a Sunday and everything (besides cafés and tourist shops) was closed, the streets were still packed. Holiday decorations twinkled in every window, and I stumbled upon both Figlmüller (rumored to have the best
schnitzel in the city) and a hole-in-the-wall church on Kärntnerstraße. Apparently, there will be a mass at the church every day this week. It's nice to know that after a total now of nine months in Vienna (between my semester in 2012 and my experiences since June), I can still find new, exciting places. There's always more to discover.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Weekly Interlude 22: Little Luxuries

Perchtoldsdorf center - so colorful!
The promptness of my blog updates is inversely proportional to how busy I am--hence the late update. Remember in September when I was writing about how difficult it was to fill my time? I knew I'd regret whining sooner or later...

A bike path in Perchtoldsdorf
My voice lessons with Jennifer are some of the high points of my week. Setting aside a (child-free) hour to dedicate solely to this craft is such a breath of fresh air. I'm not only improving my stamina and strengthening my instrument, but also learning to think about music--and singing--in an entirely different way. Some of the notions I've had my whole life about how to sing are just so counter-productive. It's exciting to change my perspective and see positive results.
Perchtoldsdorf center

I spent a bit of time with Jennifer and Lillian in Perchtoldsdorf center one day last week and took some more pictures of the town. It was a beautiful day for a walk--and a bit warm. Lillian rode her new pedal bike, and then we went to a café for lunch. It felt very luxurious, as I rarely ever eat out!

A delicious Drechsler Frühstück
On Saturday, however, I did go back to Café Drechsler with Eliza. We'd been planning for several weeks to get a "Drechsler breakfast" and then park it in the café all day. In Austria, buying just one coffee serves as your ticket to hogging a table all afternoon. We arrived around 11 a.m. and bought our Drechsler Frühstück -- scrambled eggs with ham, two rolls with butter and apricot jam, choice of coffee/tea/hot chocolate, small glass of orange juice. We sat in a little side room set away from the noise of the main café area (by default; it was the only table available at the time but turned out to be very peaceful!) and ate very slowly. I've never had such a glorious breakfast, which is extremely odd, considering how I strongly disliked eggs, ham, orange juice, and coffee before coming to Vienna in June....But I'm just going to go with it! We ended up staying until about 3 p.m., at which time we walked through a bit of the Naschmarkt and then went back to the apartment. Eliza and I keep talking about how we want another Drechsler breakfast. At 11 euros a pop, however, we need to pace ourselves.

Me as a Pants Role
Eliza as Salome
Meanwhile, Eliza and I went to that Halloween party last Thursday night. She and I definitely wore the best costumes: she fashioned a dress out of seven scarves and called herself Salome (from Richard Strauss's opera Salome), and I dressed as a Pants Role. I guess I also kind of looked like an equestrian. Either way, both were difficult to translate into Deutsch, so I ended up telling people I was Cherubino from Le Nozze di Figaro. The party was fun, though a little stressful because some people only spoke German, and I actually haven't spoken in German in a very long time. My class in August was the high point; between Musical Munchkins and Lillian, there's rarely a need for me to speak anything but basic Deutsch. This idea, ironically, has allowed me to speak more freely (perhaps I can accept now that I'll make tons of mistakes?), and my basic sentences sound more fluent than ever!
Holiday decorations in the mall

On a separate note, Christmas is the next holiday coming up in Vienna, and the city has already started to prepare. I walked into the mall in the 23rd district (right on the border of Perchtoldsdorf) yesterday and saw holiday decorations already in full swing! Musical Munchkins is also organizing a winter holiday concert, in which I'll be singing "Sleigh Ride," so needless to say, Christmas is on the brain. Which brings me to the fact that I'll be home in less than six weeks... :) 

I can't believe I've officially been living in Vienna for five months now. Where does the time go? Next thing you know, it'll be July 2014, and I'll be moving back to the U.S. But for now, I'm going to keep Livin' the Wien.
So happy at Drechsler!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Weekly Interlude 21: Filling Time, Part 2

The Perchtoldsdorf Church
The Secession Museum
The clocks in Vienna changed Saturday night--a happy surprise yesterday (and today), when I realized I had an extra hour. I seem to have a whole list of things to do, suddenly, including finding some kind of Halloween costume for my classes this week, finding guitar chords and/or a lead sheet to "Sleigh Bells" (which I then must learn, memorize, and perform for the Musical Munchkins Holiday Party), and practicing. I've been writing a lot more lately, which is at once exciting and time-sucking; I'd like nothing more than to sit and write for hours on end--preferably in a cafe--but unfortunately, the Real World isn't entirely conducive to such luxuries.

Therefore, I'm becoming ever more creative at finding ways to fit small moments of peace or enjoyment into my life. For example, I write on the S-Bahn on my way to and from Perchtoldsdorf; I read a book while in line for standing room tickets. My friend who teaches English near Graz has also come up for several weekends; after my two-and-a-half long, lonely months in the summer, having two great friends stay in my apartment is unbelievable. There's certainly no shortage of laughter!

Last night, Eliza and I bought standing room tickets for the first time at Theater an der Wien, where Diana Damrau sang the lead role in Iain Bell's new opera, A Harlot's Progress. The young British composer (who is the youngest composer ever commissioned by Theater an der Wien) based his storyline on Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, which is based on a series of six paintings and engravings (1731-32) by English artist William Hogarth. Damrau is my Elina Garanca of sopranos, which means, for those who don't know how much I love Garanca, that Damrau is one of the fittest, most agile singers and compelling actresses I've ever seen. While the subject matter of the opera was most definitely not for everyone (I'm glad I knew in advance that it was fairly explicit), its execution was honest and, in its own right, beautiful. In my opinion, Damrau's tragic mad scene surpassed the famous one in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Her sink into insanity was carefully and subtly executed, a natural progression and decent into the inevitable.

Café Drechsler
Since standing room at the Theater an der Wien is far less competitive than at the Staatsoper, Eliza and I actually arrived to the theater way too early; the doors weren't even open yet! So we walked down the street and plunked down at Café Drechsler for an hour. Over coffee, we discussed everything from Eliza's voice teacher's experience singing at the Staatsoper to our experiences with the singing technique of appoggio. (Talk about Susan's artistic adventures!) Drechsler, a sparsely decorated though warm cafe, is the only one in Vienna open 24 hours...I sense some long, writing-filled days in my future.
A temporary wall at Theater an der Wien

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday afternoon with Lillian at a playground right behind the center of Perchtoldsdorf. It was a beautiful fall day and unseasonably warm. The town looks so Austrian, though I'm not sure any of my pictures did it justice. Today, I take her to dance class, which she loves, and then I'll use the forty minutes to run out and buy a tiara or cat ears or something for my Musical Munchkins Halloween costume.

Bernstein Star, near Theater a. d. Wien
Side Note: Eliza and I are planning to go to a Halloween party this Thursday, and like true opera dorks, Eliza's dressing as Salome (from R. Strauss's opera Salome), and I'm dressing, with my limited costume choices and inclination to dress up at all, as a Pants Role. In opera, a pants role is when a female singer, typically a mezzo-soprano, sings the role of a young man. Basically, I'll be wearing pants, boots, a blouse, and an old-fashioned looking jacket. Go me. Can you tell how enthusiastic I am about this holiday?
But Christmas, my favorite holiday, is coming soon, starting with the Christmas Markets which open in Vienna at the end of November. In less than two months, I'll be home for the holidays--let's see how much I can cram in between now and then. Can I stretch out this extra hour from Daylight Savings' Time for the next couple of days at least? I can but try.
Church and bell tower in Perchtoldsdorf center

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekly Interlude 20: Staatsoper Shenanigans

Augarten Park
It's officially Fall in Vienna, complete with fiery orange leaves and cool, crisp air. It reminds me of Fall in New England, a nice dose of home. Last weekend, I went to the Augarten, a large park two U-Bahn stops away from my apartment. Imagine: late afternoon, clear blue skies and the golden slant of sun, families laughing, couples jogging, kids playing kickball, a white, fluffy dog running on the grass, tree-lined pathways, wooden benches, two men playing accordions a hundred feet away. I sat under a square-cut tree for a few hours, reading and occasionally glancing up to breathe in the life all around me.

So much green in the middle of Wien!
This week has been full of music. I had three voice lessons -- hooray! -- and I can feel the progress I'm making. A lot of what I'm working on involves changing the way I think about the most basic musical concepts -- pitch, for example. As a rather visual learner, I tend to treat pitches as discrete and distinct units, specific places of high, middle, and low as represented on the grand staff. While it's true that pitch needs to be specific (in order to sing in tune), treating pitches as "high" and "low" can give you a lot of trouble when you sing. For me, thinking about singing "high" results in my larynx (voice box) popping up and tensing (when it should, in fact, be low and calm). Now I'm working on mentally conceptualizing a different form of musical notation: basically, I'm shifting from treating pitch as a staircase (rigid) to pitch as a rubber band (flexible). Confused? Well, who ever said singing was easy? It takes a LOT of mental energy; learning to sing is often more about mental discipline than anything else. Coordination, observation, instruction, flexibility.
Tree-lined paths at Augarten

But the result of all this is that I sustained a "high" note on Saturday -- I wouldn't have been able to do it even a few weeks ago! It was so exciting; I went in with my plan, and then I executed it. I got out of my own way, and BAM. High note. Singing is so fun :)

I'm a day or two late in writing this blog entry, but in my defense, I spent well over half of yesterday at the Staatsoper, or State Opera House. Renée Fleming was singing the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (a comic opera by Richard Strauss), which is one of my favorite operas. Now, in Vienna, true opera lovers don't waste hundreds of euros on prime seats; they go for standing room, which only costs 3-4 euros. There are three sections: Parterrestehplatz (standing room on the floor; literally the best "seats" in the house), Balkonstehplatz (skip it; you can't see anything), and Galleriestehplatz (the sound is best way up here). This year, I've been going for the Gallerie because you don't have to line up so early, but Eliza and I decided to spring for Parterre yesterday.

The entrance to Augarten Park
For the six o'clock opera, we lined up at 2:10 p.m. Talk about hard core! And we weren't anywhere close to being the first ones in line! Three hours before the start of every opera, the man who operates the standing room line lets everybody wait inside. Yesterday, with ten minutes to spare before the door was due to open, I ran to a nearby bakery to get sandwiches for dinner later; when I returned, the man had let everybody inside early. And because I had left the line, he wouldn't allow me to take my same place, as per standing room line rules, so I was sent to the back. I'm usually so careful about timing everything because it's so frustrating to get into line four hours in advance and then lose your spot. (If he hadn't let the line in early...) Anyway, it turned out alright because Eliza sneakily saved me a spot -- which you're not technically allowed to do, but I'm a tiny person, so it worked.

Through the trees at Augarten
Standing room line, so cut-throat every time, was only the beginning of a bizarre (though lovely) evening. The man standing next to Eliza switched her subtitles prompter from English into German during the first intermission. When the rather rotund baritone playing Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau made his grand entrance in Act II -- adorned in a mustard-colored velvet dress coat and complementary red fez -- somebody wolf-whistled. Between Acts II and III, a man came on stage to announce that the woman playing the role of Sophie had to see a doctor and wouldn't be able to finish the production. Enter the cover (understudy, who was wonderful). I've never had such a strange standing-room experience.

Der Rosenkavalier runs just shy of four-and-a-half hours. It's an investment. In 2012, I saw this production with Nina Stemme and Elina Garanca, who were so unbelievably brilliant. (I've never seen a performer like Garanca before; she's unparalleled.) While the singers/actors were incredible in that production, I think I preferred last night's performance overall. I found myself laughing out loud, literally, at many points, whereas the 2012 version seemed, somehow, more tender than comic. I think one of the reasons I love this opera so much is that it strikes a balance between comedy and more solemn issues (aging, letting go, etc.). Renée Fleming, of course, was lovely. She's one of the most elegant people I've ever seen on stage. I'd love to see Garanca and Fleming in the same production, but if that ever happens, I'll have to stake out the standing room line 24 hours before the show starts!

Welcome, Fall!
The final trio (and emotional climax) in Der Rosenkavalier (starting at 4:00 in this link) makes the entire four-and-a-half hours worth it. To summarize: Octavian, a 17-year-old boy (played by a mezzo-soprano), hesitates between the Marschallin, with whom he had an affair (that ended in Act I), and Sophie, the young woman he loves and met after the Marschallin. The Marschallin, still in love with the young Octavian, gracefully encourages the boy to follow his heart and choose Sophie. The first time I heard it, it didn't even occur to me to read the subtitles; no translation necessary because the music speaks for itself. This trio marked one of my first truly transcendent musical experiences, and this time was no different. The music fills me from the inside out. It's like watching sunshine stream in through a stained glass window, the light branching off into hundreds of different colors and patterns. It crescendos, unfolding layer upon layer of magic. Whenever I hear it, I feel suspended, as though my breathing is controlled by the music itself. Last night, the orchestra played incomparably, rising up to meet the singers and surpassing them when it all became too much for three single voices to carry. Music like this comes from within, making you aware of all the invisible parts of you -- all the thoughts and feelings you didn't know you could have.

And on that note (pun semi-intended), it's time to begin the week.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekly Interlude 19: Sometimes It's Sunny in Vienna

Lillian has returned!
Glitter is the bane of mothers, fathers, babysitters, and teachers all over the world. It sticks to everything, embeds in carpets and cracks, taunts you with a flash out the corner of your eye, only to disappear. It travels faster than the common cold, beginning on a craft table and metastasizing to the kitchen counter, the sofa, your hair. The only medicine I've discovered so far (and it's not even really a solution) is a huge, unprompted hug from Lillian, who is so cute and so happy to see me again that I have no choice but to let go of my Glitter Grief.

One of my many glitter tattoos
Lillian and her family came back from the States this week, so I'm back to the grind. But the two afternoon/evenings I've already spent with her couldn't have been more fun. She was so happy the whole time, probably because of her glitter tattoo kit. She also has a new book/CD combo by Sandra Boynton called Frog Trouble, and it's entirely country music! Fun fact about me: I love country music. So Lillian might be more obsessed with painting butterflies on my arm, but I'm busy singing along with Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, and Darius Rucker. No big deal. Add in a couple spur-of-the-moment wrestle-hugs from Lillian, and we have a great evening.
Some foliage at the Belvedere

Tomorrow, my intensive voice lessons with Jennifer officially begin, and needless to say I'm massively excited. I have so many questions to ask her, so many observations I want to share from my four weeks without her. Plus, there's yet more music to learn. I'm still currently suffering from I-Want-to-Sing-Everything-Perfectly-Right-Now Syndrome, which is a hindrance more than a help, so hopefully she can help me sort out my thoughts and find a good path. I may have gone a little wild at the library a few weeks ago and checked out a bazillion scores and anthologies, so at least I have a lot to choose from!

The Upper Belvedere
Lillian's return to Vienna also marked the return of some of my winter clothes. Since I originally thought I'd be here until August, I only packed summer clothing; this quickly became a problem in September. My mom mailed some clothes to Jennifer in the States, who then brought them back on Wednesday, and may I just say, there is nothing like wearing your own clothes -- and having a choice about what to wear. I'd borrowed some jeans and sweaters from Jennifer in the meantime, but I was getting REALLY sick of wearing the same four shirts since June. Now I have choices! Long-sleeved, short-sleeved; the world is my oyster.

In the Museums Quartier
Now that I have long-sleeved shirts, however, the weather's warmed up a bit. Eliza and I sat in the Museums Quartier courtyard yesterday and read for a while. So many families and dog-walkers strolled by; I was people-watching in between chapters. Earlier in the week, she and I went to the Belvedere (two Baroque palaces built as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy), where we split a chocolate croissant and an apricot croissant and then wandered around the gardens. Two perfect and sunny days spent in lovely company, laughing and relaxing. Doesn't get much better than that.
Schwarzenbergplatz, in the 1st district

These two days were in sharp contrast to my job at Musical Munchkins, which is utterly exhausting. My three classes on Fridays are immensely challenging and drain me completely. After one of the classes in particular, I just want to curl up and sleep. But no. I must keep the energy high. Must. Push. Through.
A very cool plant growing across a wall

At least I'm learning new songs and stories to teach Lillian (who always appreciates them). Last night, when she was having a little trouble falling asleep due to the jet lag, I told her the stories of The Three Little Kittens, The Three Little Bears, and The Little Engine That Could. All off the top of my head! She really enjoyed them, too, so I think I should give myself more credit than I'm inclined to; just because I can't get a vibe (positive or negative) from most of the parents doesn't automatically mean that I'm a bad teacher. Not that I'm the greatest teacher ever, either. I mean, let's face it: sometimes I feel like I'm barely keeping afloat week-to-week. But that is okay. It's to be expected. I keep telling myself to chill out. My brain knows it, but my shoulders haven't quite caught on yet.
The Upper Belvedere

I have the entire day off today. Eliza's birthday is tomorrow, but I'm working all day, so we're celebrating today! I sense cake in my near future. And I may or may not have convinced her to watch Newsies with me... (But really, who can resist newsboys who sing and dance and speak with amusing New York accents?) All in all, an excellent weekend.