Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weekly Interlude 3: Vienna Gets Real

It's amazing what does and does not get accomplished in a week. Zum Beispiel (for example): I've met my young charge, organized arts and crafts, been to the Donauinselfest, spoken with Renée Fleming, and bought books auf Deutsch. I have NOT: practiced a whole lot, been to a museum, bought more milk for my cereal, wandered remote districts, or slept enough. Given the amount of time I spend alone here, I'm shocked I've even done so much.

Seeing as Renée Fleming came up in the second line of this entry, I should share the story: Last night, on a whim (and after a long exhausting day where I had to wake up at 6:45am, ugh), I decided to go to the Staatsoper because it was Richard Strauss (Capriccio) and it was Renée Fleming, both of whom I love. (When I was here last year, I had tickets to see Renée Fleming in concert and in a different Strauss opera, but she canceled all her engagements due to illness.) I bought a 3-euro ticket for the Galleriestehplatz, which is the highest of the three standing room options. Though I was literally up by the ceiling, I actually had a really good view.

As she was doing her awesome Renée Fleming-ness, looking elegant in an 18-century gown, I thought to myself, WAIT. I can get her autograph afterwards! So after a nearly three-hour opera, I'm waiting in a corner by the stage door, strategically placed so no one can leave without signing my book (I'm so sneaky). And after 40 minutes, Renée comes out! She sits at that little side table and is signing and smiling and whatnot, and then I get to the front, and she asks, "Hi, how are you?" And I say something silly like, Great, and You Were Fabulous Tonight, and she's all "Thank you so much! I'm so glad you came and enjoyed it." And this might sound kind of generic, but it wasn't. She didn't engage many other people in conversation, and I just had this feeling that she knew all the things I wanted to say to her. There was a kinship between Renée and me. And she didn't start signing my book until she'd asked me her first question and I had answered. There wasn't an air of business efficiency...she was wonderful!

When I'm not meeting famous opera singers, I generally spend my time either A) working in Perchtoldsdorf, or B) wandering around Vienna wishing my friends were here. (This blog will have to make do!)

Perchtoldsdorf is a wonderful little suburb right at the Vienna border. It's part of the famous wine region of Austria and has a large vineyard and small heuriger (wine tavern) within spitting distance of the apartment. Little Lillian and her mother took me on a walk the other day and showed me all the cut-through paths to the vineyard. As we sat drinking our wine/grape juice, the sun set behind the Vienna Woods. (I didn't bring my camera on the walk, so I have NO beautiful pictures! Coming soon...)

That calm evening provided a VERY sharp contrast to what usually happens to me in Perchtoldsdorf, which is typically a lot of meltdowns, big messes, constantly shifting ideas -- not from me, of course, but from Lillian. I have never seen someone so small up close. And for someone so small, she has a LOT of energy and curiosity, as well as a forceful personality. I wasn't sure, at first, if I could keep a 3-year-old's attention for a whole afternoon, but she seems to take care of that herself. She always has a new game to play, a new idea to test out, a new piece of furniture to climb on. And the thing is, she is just a person, albeit a small one. She's not a foreign creature, as I'd feared she would be. It's only hard to talk to her when she won't eat or when she doesn't want her mom to leave. But as soon as I pull out the paints and brushes and suggest we make her mama and papa a picture, she's completely happy again. (And I would like to add that I sneakily convinced her to take a nap yesterday...something I never thought I could do!)

On my days off, I'm trying to explore as much of the city as possible. While I work in Perchtoldsdorf, I'm actually staying in a city apartment in the 2nd district, right by the Praterstern. I thought that Vienna wouldn't be a great place for vacation in the summer because all the opera houses and concert halls close in July and August. Thank God I was totally wrong! There are so many free outdoor film showings, outdoor concerts, and festivals (food, beer, music) that I'll always have something to do. Last Friday, I went with my friend to the Donauinselfest, or Danube Island Festival, the biggest open-air (music) festival in Europe. There were 80,000 people there on Friday! We heard Amy MacDonald, a Scottish indie/folk/country singer, and an Austrian band (whose name I can't remember), and then walked down the island for 45 minutes. It was incredible!

The hardest part about Vienna right now is the language barrier. I know enough German to hold basic conversations, but I have a lot of trouble understanding others when they speak. This makes my days rather quiet; my one friend here is in exams, and I can't really understand anyone else, literally! So every time I speak auf Deutsch -- as I did this past weekend when I gave some people directions, or yesterday, when I asked a woman in line at the opera where she was going to stand -- I get ridiculously excited and proud of myself. Meanwhile, I'm practicing my reading skills with Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban.

I've made a list so far of all the things I want to do and places I want to go before I come back home on August 18. It's a lot of time, and it isn't. It's been a long week, and I seem to have done a lot, so let's see what I can accomplish in two months...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekly Interlude 2: Rome-ing About

Baroque Gone Wild at St. Ignazio's
Ten days in Italy is not enough. My aunt and I divided our time into three cities: Rome (4 days), Florence (3 days), and Bologna (2 days), which was perfect for this vacation but left out some other incredible places. I guess that means we'll have to go back sometime...!

At the risk of making one giant list, let me share some highlights of the trip:

Rome is a beautiful city, a stunning combination of ancient and modern. Day 1 was our "Ancient Day," where we activated our Roma passes (worth every penny!) and skipped the lines to get into the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. I took nearly 400 pictures; my camera battery was flashing red by the time we ate dinner in Trastevere. The next day, we toured the Vatican and then ambitiously headed to the Museo Borghese to see Bernini's Apollo e Daphne sculpture.

This sculpture turned out to be the most incredible piece of art I've ever seen. It depicts Apollo running after Daphne right at the moment she begins to turn into a tree. As you walk around the sculpture, you can see Daphne's toes stretching into roots, her hair twisting back into leaves, and her fingertips sprouting branches. Apollo grasps a hand around her waist, which has already begun to turn into bark, as his toga billows out behind him. It was SO worth waiting in the long, hot line (and dealing with the total lack of customer service) to see this sculpture. Other rooms in the Borghese house Bernini's Rape of Persephone sculpture and his statue of David.
Super-touristy picture on the Spanish Steps

If you ever go to Rome, beware the crazy drivers. Lanes and stop signs are optional, apparently, which requires all the drivers to have superlative dodging skills. On the taxi ride back to Fiumicino airport, we ended up going 96mph on the highway.

We received a warm welcome in Florence from Monti, the concierge at Hotel Alessandra, who offset the bleak weather. Yet Florence is a city for shoppers, so we weren't discouraged by a little rain. Walk across the Ponte Vecchio, and you pass stalls and stalls of jewelry, gloves, shoes, art, leather products, EVERYTHING. I'm proud to say I controlled myself from buying a pair of 160 euro shoes (which felt like butter on my feet, but whatever). Instead, I haggled (sort of) for a purse at San Lorenzo market and followed my aunt into about every single church in the city. Using my FirenzeCard, I jumped the line to climb the Duomo, which was both awesome and terrifying. (My aunt refused to join me.) And of course, we saw Michelangelo's statue of David, which I found much more impressive in person than in pictures. I was expecting him to look a little weak compared to Bernini's David, but the 17-foot statue exudes calm power.

View from the Duomo

The next day, we hopped a train to Bologna, where we stayed at a hotel right in the middle of the Quadrilateral, the market neighborhood. After the constant trekking around, we could barely function in Bologna. So what did we do? We plunked ourselves down at Fleur du Vin, a French wine bar/cafe, and drank rosé and ate cheese and bread.

The next day proved to be one of the highlights of our trip, and if you ever visit Bologna, DO THIS: we took a cooking class!! Perfect for the food capital of Italy. Carlo, our guide and chef, took us around the Quadrilateral, introducing us to his friends and favorite sellers and buying fresh ingredients for our day. We made tagliatelle and ricotta/parmesan/spinach stuffed tortelloni by hand (no crank or machine involved) and authentic Bolognese sauce. I even tried prosciutto and mortadella, even though I dislike ham, bacon, and most deli meats. Not bad! The prosciutto wasn't overly salty, and I didn't feel like I was eating skin (always a plus). While my aunt and I hand-rolled the tortelloni and cut the tagliatelle, Carlo made tirimisu, which is much creamier and less cake-y in Italy than in the US. To make a long story short, I stuffed myself silly and didn't regret a moment of it. :)
Fruit at the Quadrilateral Market

Now I'm back in Vienna, where I'm trying to keep myself busy. Going from people and activity 24/7 for so long to living alone feels strange. I suppose this is when I'm supposed to practice and explore and make new friends. I'll keep you posted on how that goes... :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Weekly Interlude 1: Welcome!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Susan’s Artistic Adventures! As a recent college graduate (Vocal Performance major, Writing minor), I decided now would be an excellent time to begin my very first blog. While I attempt to make a living in two of the most unstable professions possible, I’ll use this space to share my journey with you – and to help me process everything that happens!

Let’s start with the more interesting: this summer, I’m living in Vienna, Austria, while I work as a nanny for the 3-year-old daughter of an opera singer. (Last spring, I spent a semester studying in Wien and have been engineering ways to return ever since.) I arrived last Tuesday, luckily avoiding the massive flooding, and proceeded to jaunt over to Italy, where I’m spending 10 days with my aunt before actually starting my job. All in all, I currently lead an extremely cushy life. (That will change, I’m sure, when I start paying off my student loans in November.)

Vienna is the ideal city for a music lover (particularly classical music). You can walk down the street humming Mozart, and nobody’s bothered. You can see the best opera productions in the world for a mere four euros. My first weekend there, I saw a Kurdish music concert. While all major cities have street musicians, it’s not every day you see a trio playing replicas of ancient instruments. Music saturates the daily culture, which gives the city a certain magic.

Besides music/singing, my other great passion is writing. I’ve been fortunate to have some brilliant and inspirational writing professors, one of whom encouraged me to start this blog. My preference leans more towards creative writing (I have wanted to write novels since I was about five years old), but there’s also something immensely cathartic about sharing real experiences with other people in a more immediate form – whether that be blogging, art reviews, personal essays, or postcards.

So as I begin to wend my way through this “Real World,” which has always seemed to take pleasure in breaking down young 20-somethings, I figure it’s best not to be alone. I mean, some of my favorite afternoons have been spent at the local Javaroom café, swapping stories with my best friends and taking comfort in our uncertain adventures.

So feel free to take a break from your busy (or not so busy) life, and join me for a Weekly Interlude of music, writing, and travel! Or basically (as my dad suggested this blog be titled), a pile of “pearls and drivel.”:)