Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekly Interlude 17: Let's Take a Walk

I've had another one of those in-between weeks again. It seems like something is almost always on the verge of happening -- getting paid, visiting friends, going to Oktoberfest -- but these events are always scheduled for sometime in the (near) future. Honestly, not much has changed since last week, except that I'm perhaps a little more comfortable with the idea of doing nothing/vegging out (now that my free month is winding to a close, of course).

Beginning of the Wanderweg
Last Sunday, Eliza and I went hiking in the Vienna Woods. Vienna has nine Wanderwege, or hiking trails, that wind up to various peaks; we took Wanderweg 1 up 1,588 feet to Kahlenberg (Bald Mountain). The last time I went hiking (not counting Mt. Untersberg in Salzburg), a friend and I climbed Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. To get to that summit at 3,165 feet, you have to get a little creative sometimes, as there isn't always a clear foot path; it's as much a climb along steep rock face as it is a distinct walking path. I expected this same challenging course as I geared up to climb Kahlenberg. Eliza and I looked like serious hikers in our under-armor running wear, sweatshirts, and light backpacks.
Vineyard along the Wanderweg

Along the Wanderweg
But the Wanderwege are mostly paved paths filled with bikers, joggers, and older couples in cargo pants using walking poles. It was more a scenic tour through the green Vienna countryside than the rigorous hike I'd imagined. We began by taking Beethovengang, or Beethoven Walk, and soon found ourselves at the corner of Beethovengang and Eroicagasse. Very cool. Soon, though, street signs disappeared, and the path became steeper. Vineyards stretched up along the mountainside in orderly rows, and grassy fields swayed below us. Little houses occasionally dotted the landscape, nestled behind some trees or hidden at the foot of endless rows of grape vines. The sun emerged early on, and I kept stopping my power-walk to take photos and marvel over the city's beauty. (The Vienna Woods begin within city limits and then stretch beyond. In fact, more than half of the Vienna metropolitan area is "green space" -- parks, woods, etc. Kahlenberg lies in the 19th district.)
Along the Wanderweg

Along the Wanderweg
When I studied abroad in Vienna in 2012, the host program organized a bus tour of the city the first week we were there. I remember towards the end of the tour, the bus drove us all the way up to Kahlenberg, and we saw the most magnificent view of the city. It was freezing at the time, the frigid January wind whipping our faces, but I distinctly remember taking beautiful photos of the Alps in the distance and of the Danube Island below. Visiting Kahlenberg is one of my first memories of being in the city.
St. Josef's Church

Returning to Kahlenberg after a year and a half seemed symbolic somehow, as if I had come back to gain closure. (I may be back in Vienna, but it's very different than the last time I was here.) The pale yellow St. Josef's Church -- a Baroque church finished in 1639 and rebuilt between 1683 and 1734 (50 years!) after the Battle of Kahlenberg -- still stands, welcoming you to the mountain as you emerge from the hiking trail. Souvenir shops sell the same products every few feet. This time, though, people lounged outside in chairs, enjoying the mild weather and drinking coffees, rather than huddled inside the restaurants. It was beautiful and crowded, and I felt like I was in the thick of it all.
Danube, viewed from Kahlenberg

Behind Leopoldsberg
Eliza and I decided to hike an extra 25 minutes to Leopoldsberg, the neighboring hilltop looming at 1,394 feet. This part of the walk was quieter but no less beautiful. We rested for a bit at the summit, then took the bus all the way back down -- down Leopoldsberg, down Kahlenberg, along steeply winding roads, through Grinzing, past a Beethoven house, all the way to Heiligenstadt, where we picked up the U-Bahn and went home. All in all, a lovely afternoon spent in the city. I'd recommend a walk through the Vienna Woods to anyone who comes to visit.
Yes, Autobushaltestelle = bus stop

Yesterday, I took another walk (without my camera; shame on me!), this time over to the Danube, which is only about 10 minutes from where I live. I sat along the river -- which is not always blue, as Mr. Strauss would have you believe -- for a while, talking to Eliza and watching motorboats bump gently along. (The Polizei have a motorboat, too!) I miss the ocean terribly, being stuck in a land-locked country, and while a river or a lake is definitely NOT the same thing, it was still refreshing to sit along the water and think.
View from Leopoldsberg

The days in between and after these two walks have been cloudy and cold. Could it be that I'm in for another winter like the four I just had in Ithaca, NY?! I'm sensing that's a yes. That's okay. As always, I will survive. :)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekly Interlude 16: Filling Time

Rathaus (City Hall)
Life has been pretty mild since the bat incident last week. Lillian and her parents are off in the States for a few weeks, so my biggest challenge lately is figuring out what to do to fill all my free time. Not a bad problem to have, I realize; but it can be very tricky when my other job is only six hours a week. Going from college (where you have absolutely no free time) to a hectic, on-call schedule and then basically to a screeching halt is like experiencing severe culture shock -- all in the span of four months.

Mostly I've been reading -- Harry Potter in English, Eat Pray Love -- and watching movies every night. It turns out Eliza, my roommate, is just as big a Harry Potter geek as me, so cue deep philosophical discussions about the Hogwarts universe. (We also find this trailer amusing.) Always a good time filler. But days are long when you either a) have no required plans, or b) are stressed (which I often seem to be for no apparent reason), and there are only so many movies I can really stand to watch in a day.

View out the library window
Last week, I went back to the library and spent a while perusing the musical scores section. I've decided that my practice habits flail most when I don't have a recital or a voice jury (singing final exam) to prepare for, seeing as my time at Ithaca College was always spent preparing for one or the other. So my brilliant idea was to create a recital program to work on over the course of my time in Vienna! Yet what I really crave to sing now is early American musical theater -- Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter. Plus, I'm suffering from I-Want-to-Sing-Everything-Perfectly-Right-Now Syndrome: a dangerous disease which can result in intense frustration, lack of concentration and motivation, and, frequently, not practicing at all. There's too much music to learn, and I don't know where to begin, so I simply sit down with all my scores and play the music on the piano. (Interestingly enough, my piano sight-reading abilities are infinitely better than my ability to quickly and comfortably sing the music.) Which should I learn first? Songs from South Pacific? From The Light in the Piazza? There's so much amazing music out there, and I want to know it all -- a beautiful and dangerous wish.

Work's been going well. I survived week two. Honestly, there's only one class that makes me want to curl up and cry and/or start throwing things; the others aren't bad! I am getting rather sick of the Lion and the Mouse story, which I tell to every class, complete with puppets and stamps. The kids love it, though, so I'm working on making my presentation as dramatic and exciting as possible. I think my lion roar needs some work...

Horse riding event in Vienna
The biggest challenge for me in teaching is actually preserving my own voice. Kids require SO MUCH ENERGY, more than I ever imagined, and even when you give everything you have, they still might not respond. After teaching three classes in a row on Friday afternoon, my voice is shot. Not good. After all, singing was the main reason I decided to stay in Vienna, so if my job prevents me from doing that, then what's the point? So needless to say, I'm working on healthier ways to project my voice and speak dramatically; I have email queries out to voice teachers and Music Ed friends for their advice! (If you have any, please feel free to leave a comment.)

I'm looking forward to my first paycheck -- my first paycheck out in the Real World. Perhaps it'll make all this seem a bit more real? Oh yes, I just happen to be living in Vienna, teaching music to small children, singing all day long. My life sounds pretty nice when I put it like that, though I assure you, the actual execution of it is much less glamorous. One day I'm battling bats, the next I'm finding a more exciting way to play "If You're Happy and You Know It" on the piano.

Riding arena, Rathausplatz
Dressage event
But that's not to say I don't strive to make my time here as thrilling as possible. In my effort to fill my time beyond Musical Munchkins, I discovered this link -- a gold mine for people living in or traveling to Vienna. I discovered there was a horse show in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) Thursday-Sunday, with free admission before 2 p.m. And not just any horse show, but Vienna Masters 2013, Global Champions Tour, the "Formula 1 of show jumping." Olympic riders and European champions all convened to compete in Vienna. Considering how I used to pretend I was a horse when I was little, I didn't really have a choice but to go! Eliza and I headed over to the Rathausplatz (which not three weeks ago had been an outdoor film and food festival) and spent an hour watching dressage in the huge arena. Afterwards, we found the warm-up ring and watched dozens of horses trotting, jumping, and all-around being awesome :)
Dr. Watson

Fun facts: 80 lorry loads of sand from Austria (Melk) and Italy (Udine) were brought in to form the surface of the riding arena, and 1,800 bales of sawdust line the temporary stables!

Dressage event
The dressage event was interesting, particularly given the music choices. Each contestant performed to a different song medley. Eliza and I routed for a bay horse from the Netherlands named Dr. Watson, who effortlessly executed a routine to a mash-up of "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga (ballad version, complete with a heavy brass section and driving rhythms) and "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls. Perhaps the daring and unconventional music choice impressed the judges because Dr. Watson placed 1st at the time and then later finished 3rd overall.
Warm-up ring

(I'd like to add that music ran the gamut from Lady Gaga to a Lion King musical soundtrack medley.)

19th district, bordering Vienna Woods
Today, since the sun is finally shining again, and (knock on wood) it's not supposed to rain, Eliza and I are going to hike in the Vienna Woods! Our route will take us up Kahlenberg, or Bald Mountain, so there ought to be good pictures coming in the next Weekly Interlude...As for this week, I'm just working on relishing all my free time because, let's face it, I'll probably never have this much free time in my life ever again!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Weekly Interlude 15: Die Fledermaus

Vienna State Opera
When I hear the words Die Fledermaus (or, "The Bat") in Austria, my mind immediately zips to the quintessential Viennese operetta by Johann Strauss II. It's comical, fast-paced, and witty and makes for an enjoyable evening out at the Volksoper.

What is not so comical or witty is having a REAL BAT flying around in your apartment, which is exactly what happened to me two nights ago!! Between my roommate and me, the Fledermaus/operetta jokes were flying around almost as fast as the bat itself.

It all began when I was having a lovely Facebook chat with one of my friends from home. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark object flying around super fast. Oh jeez, I thought. Another one of those moths. It must have flown in through the window I just opened in the living room.

But hang's too big to be a's a BIRD! Thinking it's a bird that's tearing around in circles and diving occasionally at my head, I start shouting nervously for Eliza. "I have a bird in my room!" I say in a bright, shaky voice. But then this small, dark, crazy bird flies at my roommate's head, and she dives to the floor.

"That's not a bird, Susan, it's a BAT!"

We scream, it flies out of the room, and Eliza jumps into my room and slams the door. We are temporarily safe.

Okay, everything I know about bats is pretty much confined to what you find in the children's book Stella Luna or the Batman movies. They're nocturnal, they fly, they sleep upside down, they can carry rabies. Not super helpful at the moment. Eliza also informed me that bats' teeth are so small that you can't always see a mark if one bites you...(I thought Halloween was in October! What's up with the horror stories??) Google had tips on trying to capture a bat, but I didn't have any thick leather workman's gloves to whip out of my back pocket. We decided we needed a grown-up's opinion, so Eliza Skyped the only person online at that moment: her voice teacher. He told us to get a broom and try to get it out the open window again. (We shrank in fear at the thought of battling a bat.) Instead we found emergency numbers.

Now, when you have a bat in your house at midnight in Vienna, do you call the police? Do you call the Animal Welfare Helpline? Is the welfare for the animals themselves or for the humans who find them? We couldn't find an Animal Control number. Plus, everything was auf Deutsch, of course. Another of my friends on Skype also told me to get a broom and beat it back towards the window. (Apparently, that's what she did when she had a bat in her apartment.) Perhaps in an exhaustion-meets-adrenaline panic, I called one of my colleagues from work, thinking maybe she or her Austrian boyfriend could give us advice. She was super nice, but I woke her up with the call. And they didn't have much advice.

Me, Battle of the Bat
My roommate could easily have slept in my room that night but, as I'd been feeling dehydrated earlier, I'd just guzzled some water before going to bed...I wasn't going to make it eight hours until sunrise...

There was no choice but to suit up and face the bat head-on. We covered up completely: sweatshirts tucked into jeans, jeans tucked into four layers of socks each (our shoes were outside the safe room), hoods drawn tightly over our heads. To protect our hands, we wore winter socks -- not as thick as leather gloves, but we retained our finger dexterity! We grabbed towels as our weapon of choice, until we could make it to the broom in the hallway.

Once we looked as ridiculous as possible, the Battle of the Bat began. One by one, we cleared each room, making lots of noise and flipping on each light. No sign of the bat. No squeak, no flap, nothing. I must think I live in a movie because I kept expecting to be, say, staring in a mirror and see the bat drop suddenly onto my head. UGH.

Eliza, Battle of the Bat
We finally retired. I assume the bat surrendered because we've seen no sign of it since. We slept with all the lights on and the window open that night. And to top off this whole comedy show, when I returned to my room to lower my shades, the entire curtain rod fell off the wall. The bat's last stand? Perhaps.

So if you ever have a bat in your house, here's what you should know: 1) Bats only attack if they feel cornered, 2) only about 6% of all bats carry rabies, 3) bats use echolocation to navigate (they translate sounds into a map of their surroundings; sound = object), 4) bats have a difficult time taking flight from the ground, so if you can knock it down, you have a better chance of catching it (they prefer to drop from a height to gain airspeed), 5) if a bat flies around during the day, it's probably sick. And good luck! I'm now scared to open my window at night; I used to like the cool breeze wafting in as I slept, but now I burrow under the covers and freeze at the slightest noise.

Brie puff pastry w/honey
Barring the bat, I've had a pretty good week. Teaching went better than I expected; in fact, I actually feel like I know what I'm doing about 80-85% of the time! (But what do you do when none of the kids are interested in anything you have planned?) My roommate and I also had another delicious Friday Night Dinner: meatballs and pizza with brie puff pastry for dessert -- all while watching The Sound of Music! (Finally, after a month and a half, my Salzburg/SoM craving was satisfied!)

Coming up this week: exploring more of Vienna on my 3-day weekend, looking for a fall jacket, and perhaps going to see another performance. Wouldn't you know it? Die Fledermaus is playing at the Volksoper :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Weekly Interlude 14: Launching Headfirst Into Artistic Adventures

Musical Munchkins

Okay, now that that's out in the open, let me double back.

My first big mistake in last week's Interlude was writing, "The last 'first' of this week is happening tomorrow: I'm getting a roommate!" Not only did I get a roommate, I also went on my second job interview, got the job, signed my first contract, met up with a girl who is studying abroad here (kind of a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend situation), and researched banks. Then this week started off with a bang on Monday at 7:45 a.m. when I registered with the police to confirm that, yes, I am in fact living here for the next year. Tuesday, determined not to be outdone by Monday's events, saw me opening a bank account at 8 a.m. (now I have a place for my paychecks to go!). And every day, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., I have been holed up at Musical Munchkins for intensive job training, where I am basically trying to squeeze a Music Ed degree into one week.

Remember a couple posts ago when I discovered that I am a fundamentally stressed-out person? Well, the past week has just made that even more obvious!
Arrivals board at Vienna International

So here is the plan for the next year: I am staying in Vienna until December, when I will then come home for Christmas. Then I return right after the New Year and stay until the beginning of July. Which reminds me, I need to book my flights for 2014....

There was so much to deal with this week (registration, bank account, insurance -- which needed to be handled in a particular order and in a very short amount of time) that I didn't even have time to celebrate landing my first job. All I could see, especially over the weekend, was every negative thing: I need to register before I can open an account before I can sign up for basic health insurance, I'm not going to see my family and friends for a really long time, I don't have a Music Ed degree, I can't understand these bank account websites, I'm the most awkward teacher ever, I just want to sleep, I've signed away my life for the next year, etc. etc.

Friends from German class!
Now that this crazy week is over, I can say that the next year is going to be super hard, but (as my mom keeps telling me) I am capable. Plus, I have an amazing support system, both over here and at home. I was floored by the way people were so willing and eager to help me out. When I called my friend (who is from Vienna but studying in France this semester), freaking out about the timing of all this bureaucracy stuff, she immediately called her mom, who not only called different banks to ask them about their offers, accounts, etc., but also went with me on Tuesday morning to help me open the account. When I emailed my friend's brother, who lives in Germany, for advice about banks, insurance, etc., he immediately responded with loads of helpful information and advice. So even when I'm freaking out (which is often), I have a whole network of people on my side. That's pretty awesome.

Musical Munchkins mural
As for the job itself, I start teaching this Tuesday. I'll have three classes, with kids between the ages of 10 months and 3 years. I've been resurrecting all kinds of stories: The Lion and the Mouse, Three Billy Goats, Three Little Bears, Three Little Kittens, Rapunzel, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Little Engine that Could, etc. I'm also now intimately familiar with I, IV, and V7 chords on the piano, as I improvise simple boom-chick-chick and oom-pah accompaniments to songs such as "Old MacDonald," "If You're Happy and You Know It," and "The Wheels on the Bus." There are three other teachers, plus the director; the girls have been super supportive and very helpful. When I had to show up on Wednesday ready to teach one of the lesson plans, they acted as my students and created numerous scenarios for me: kid won't give marker back, kid rolls under the piano, kid doesn't listen -- what do you do? Basically, my biggest problem is that I use too many words, so I'm working on simplifying my classroom instructions. No need to say, "Everybody find your pointer finger and trace a circle" when teaching 2-year-olds about whole notes; just say, "Point! Circle!" and start singing.

Vienna Parliament
Roommate celebration dinner!
All in all, I'm living in a mild state of anxiety, which I'm hoping is normal for someone starting their first job. Last night was the first time I really celebrated this accomplishment (and the arrival of my roommate!). My friend and I made a delicious dinner: grilled caprese sandwiches, two kinds of savory puff pastries (hamburger and gouda, veggies and feta), and worms in dirt. Tonight, she and I are going to see Carmen at the Staatsoper, and tomorrow we're going to see Tosca!! (And Monday night, Jennifer and I are going to see La Traviata...three of my favorite operas in three days!)

As I learn to balance my new job and schedule, I need to bring my own practicing back to the forefront. Lessons with Jennifer are amazing, and hopefully I'll have more next week. I can't exist solely on classical music, nor am I completely fulfilled by teaching kids "Old Brass Wagon." You know? I need a little bit of everything.

Sticker on U-Bahn seat :)
So I won't make the same mistake this time and write something equivalent to, "Okay, I guess that's it for the week!" Because new things are happening all the time. Life and singing and teaching are all like that -- demanding, developing, dynamic. None of them are ever "achieved." In all three, it's the process and the discovery that matters, not the having.