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...


  1. Yay for foreign language Harry Potter! I have "Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale" with me... I should really read that sometime...

    Glad you're settling in well!

    1. Reading a book like Harry Potter in a foreign language is actually working out WAY better than I thought it would! It obviously helps my comprehension, but it's also improving my speaking...so I highly encourage la Pietra Filosofale :) It's also fun to open up the book to a random spot, start reading, and try to deduce where in the book you are.