Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Baby Hatch

So the other day I was trying to return a book to one of the many closet-sized University libraries scattered around Vienna. The library had closed before I got there at 2:00 or something equivalently ridiculously early and I was trying to determine whether the slot in the door was just for mail, or also a book drop. I deliberated for a long time and even called one of my Austrian friends, who from my description was also unsure. Fortunately I was talking long enough and loud enough (it is great being American isn't it?) while holding open slot flap (I have no idea what the right word for that thing is) that one of the employees came from the back and let me give back my book. Tangentially, if it wasn't her somebody had definitely been smoking pot there. Anyway, she was very nice and it turned out the slot really was just for mail. She called the slot a Babyklappe, which sounded innocent enough at the time, you know baby slot whatever, the things are low, you know like babies built them for babies or something. Then I spoke to my friend Eva. She told me a Babyklappe is a hatch/box that mothers can put their babies in after birth if they want to give it up. Apparently these things are pretty common and started Middle Ages. Just thought you should know, though I don't think they should use the same word for any kind of slot, that could end badly.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Zommunist Threat

Oh it is a doozey of a week. Yes you can still say doozey. Fortunately I have the Kids in the Hall to get me through it. I was looking for a skit on youtube that I particularly liked, but I found this Dave Foley monologue providing ever more proof of the imminent zommunist threat. Silly people, how many times have I told you communists don't die they just become zommunists? Each year the Zommunist ranks grow larger (from this years dead dictators there are at least two new zommunists and that's assuming Castro is still alive, a big assumption). Also Russia is so faking.

P.s. On the Kids in the Hall DvDs they talk about some things that are "so Canadian." I have never been to Canada and I don't think I can recognize something as being Canadian unless it is in a mountie outift and saying aboot. Seriously, I don't hear Canadian accents. How did that happen? Other people can.

Monday, February 26, 2007


So if you come to Austria or parts of southern Germany get ready to hear 'Mahlzeit' a lot. Literally it just means 'meal time,' but in here it is used to mean bon appetite ('guten Appetit' in Germany, tangentially, I've had to convince Germans on numerous occasions that you can't wish people 'good appetite' in English). Fair enough really, it sounds nice and is certainly courteous...except that in Austria it has gotten a little out of hand. Provided it is considered to be around lunchtime people will stop whatever they are doing and say 'Mahlzeit,' whether or not food is present, whether or not there is the intention of eating, whether or not you have a phobia of food and god help you if you don't respond with the same. Oh Mahlzeit is on. All of which is a bit funny because it is several hours each day of people basically saying "Mealtime! Yes, Mealtime. Mealtime? Yes Mealtime. Mealtime!" Usually I am just thinking, 'Yes, we established that already, yes, yes we did, yes I will wish you Mahlzeit too so you don't hate me server person even though you will just be watching me eat the whole time. " In anycase after a while you just accept it and stop question it.

Well today I heard the best Mahlzeit joke ever in my improv class here (been three times, it is great!). Basically it was a scene with a prison guard taking a prisoner to his last meal. Very dramatically she said 'Die letzte Mahlzeit' [the last meal] and then in the same tone wished him "Mahlzeit." It greatly amused me, and I am pretty sure I wasn't the only person laughing. Maybe.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


[Translator's note, the word used here in German is 'Beutal,' which means both 'bag' and pouch, plesase understand that or this probably won't be very funny]

Cashier: I'm afraid we don't have any bags left, would you like to try one of our animals with pouches?
Blue Monster: Take Me! Take Me! I've got five pouches!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Yulia Tymoshenko

One of the things that still frustrates me about my time at Columbia was that I was not able to hear President Putin when he spoke at Lowe Library. The whole thing was very poorly organized and I wasn't able to get a ticket beforehand and wasn't one of the luckyfew who was able to get in without a ticket. I was pretty pissed. This was back in the days of me wearing a suit everyday. So after I didn't get in I stood facing one of the American special services agents in my suit with my Falkland Islands' pin staring down one of the American secret service agents who had kept people out. Eventually he approached me and asked me who I was working for that day (i.e. he thought I was some sort of service too). Again staring down security agents probably wasn't the brightest idea in the world considering there were snipers on all of the roofs waiting to take out wood-be assassins, but again I was pretty pissed.

So I am learning to deal with that pain, though this year when my Russian politics professor quoted Putin from when he spoke at Columbia a part of me died inside, again.

So this year Yulia Tymoshenko is going to Columbia, jut as I am writing a big paper on Ukrainian politics. For those that don't know Yymoshenko is one of the leaders of Ukraine's orange revolution, which through peaceful protests managed to get falsified elections overturned and a pro-reform president elected, which resulted in a real opening in Ukrainian society. That being said I wouldn't say I really like her. I am a Ukrainian nationalist and her support base is in the nationalist west (where my grandma is from, ohhh), but she is from the Russian east and a former oligarch. None the less she is a populist and very influential, and according to my politics teacher a real bitch, all of which makes me really want to hear her speak. So again part of me dies inside for not being able to. So if I sent you an e-mail telling you to go hear her speak you had better! So anyway, below is some wallpaper from her website that conflicts from her usual very feminine image and a Russian KBH video making fun of her and her Ukrainian peasant-style hairdo. Also, if you want to hear here speaking Ukrainian click here.

[Note: Can we say Schadenfreude? Tymoshenko ended up suddenly cancelling the entire New York leg of her trip. I am sorry for everyone that didn't get to go, but also glade I didn't miss it. I am a horrible person]

Friday, February 23, 2007


So КВН (in English KVN) is a tradition in pretty much all of the post-Soviet countries in places like Israel, Germany, and the US with big immigrant communities from the former Soviet Union. KBN (Клуб Весёлых и Находчивых, awkwardly translated by wikipedia as "Club of the cheerful and sharp-witted people") is a sketch comedy organization that started in the time of Soviet Union. Basically every school would practice, have multiple teams, have a tournament and would then choose the best team to send on to the local final, and then to the region, so on and so forth. The stuff is pretty funny and I think the whole thing is just great because it is like a professional sketch comedy/improv league with a huge audience (because everyone has to take a shot at it in school) and national recognition. I would even argue that it is one of the best things, if not my favorite thing, to come out of the Soviet Union. Anyway, in Kazakhstan they had two leagues, one in Russian and one in Kazakh, and today on youtube I found a video from the KBH Kazakh competition (amusingly labled as "KBH Texas" because it took place in the south of Kazakhstan, which is called the Kazakh Texas because of its oil, religiousnes, and weirdness, sorry Texans). Listen for the English words, even without knowing Kazakh I think it is pretty funny if very bizarre.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Suicidal man: I just feel like the grass is always greener on the other side.

Cow: Exactly! And tastes Better!

Anna and Me

My French teacher was sick today so instead of class we had an extra test today (yeah!). It wasn't too bad, information about French language classes, a text about child soldiers in Africa (up lifting! Yes), and then a composition about one or more of the most important events in your country in the last twenty years. I think I put it best when I said taking a French test for me is a lot like being on the Hindenburg, you know you are going to go down in a fiery inferno of pain so you might as well try and enjoy the ride. Well the major events of last twenty years in the US have been things like presidential elections and horrific acts of terrorism, but no way in hell do I have the vocabulary for that so I decided to write about how the death of Anna Nicole Smith as the most important event in American history in the past twenty years. I wrote about how she was a symbol for an entire generation of Americans, how she was the new Marilyn Monroe, how she encapsulated the good and the bad of the US (though I should have used the verb 'incarner'), and how the US is a poorer place without her. I greatly enjoyed my ride on the Hindenburg.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

So Ash Wednesday creeped up on me again. Usually I see people walking around and think 'wow people are really dirty today, think something about suffering in industrial bowler-wearing and smog belching London, and then realize it is Ash Wednesday and feel a mild desire to be ostentatiously catholic too. Well now I am in a catholic country, but guess what? They rub the crosses off after church. They consider it too ostentatious. It is, but it is fun! In New York it made me feel like I was living in a bad horror movie the whole day!

Also I found this picture, comments attached to it said how cute it was:

I think I would gladly welcome them to the Zommunist party.

Edit: I also completely missed Presidents' day. Also, my mom doesn't approve of my Ash Wednesday horror movie comparison.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Those That Left Us This Year

And now the fourth and final part of the very special Barbarossa series looking back at some of those who left us this year.

Saddam Hussein

Poet for our Time

Saddam Hussein will be remembered for many things: his brutal killing of thousands of Kurds, his awesome dictator moustache, losing every war he dragged his country into, and of course his role as a trend setter in dictator fashion, but often overlooked, perhaps because of the magnitude of his other achievements, are his contributions to world literature.

From a very young age Saddam's dictatorial potential was clear. He liked telling people what to do, carrying around a metal bar to puncture the stomachs of passing animals with, and had unnecessarily killed at least three men by his late teens. Life was hard in economically rickety Iraq, yet young Saddam's natural skill and perseverance made him shoe in for the position with the most job security in the entire country: national dictator. Yet what is often left out in the story was that Saddam's heart just wasn't in it. He was good at it and put on a good show while torturing dissidents, but in many ways being dictator was just something Saddam did to make ends meet. It was his post-college finance job. Indeed it was the being dictator for life that gave Saddam the luxury of indulging in his true passion: creative writing

If anything, the fevered pace with which Saddam Hussein finished his last book, 'Demons be Gone!,' which were rolling off the presses as the war began, speaks to this.

Saddam's fourth book, 'Demons be Gone!" tells the story of Salim "a pure, virtuous Arab. Salim is tall and handsome with a straight nose," -cough-Saddam-cough, who defends Iraq from Ezekiel, an immortal Jew whose evil fat presence runs throughout time and who attempts to conquer Iraq and turn Muslim against one another. Many have commented on how positively Hussein represents Ariel Sharon in this character.

The Gulf War is perceptively portrayed as another attempt by Ezekiel to conquer Iraq, but with the words "Be gone demon," Salim is able drive him off. Sadly, tricky old Ezekiel later returns with his Roman -cough-American-cough- allies and subjugate Iraq, but valiant Salim is able to lead a glorious resistance moment and work towards the liberation of Iraq.

It is truly a wonder Saddam's series has yet to emerge as the next Harry Potter.

Still, work often left Saddam with too little time to work on his novels. A benevolent dictator, Saddam was happy sometimes just to be a muse for others, summoning writers at three o'clock in the morning, giving them three days to turn his notes into a novel. Often Saddam was so excited by what they had written that his joy would overflow, killing the writers, and Saddam was then so moved by their deaths that he would publish their works in his own name. Truly that alone makes him the equal of his spiritual mentor, Ernest Hemingway, whose novel the Old Man and the Sea he sought to emulate.

The world is poorer without your prose to enrich our lives Saddam, and Ezekiel just hasn't been the same since you left.

And now a montage of better times:

One Final Note from an Article I found:

Saddam Hussein was forced to watch South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, according to the film's co-creator Matt Stone.

The former Iraqi leader is portrayed in the movie as a homosexual who is in a relationship with the devil, and Stone claims the prisoner was forced to watch it "repeatedly" while he was being held by US Marines.

The South Park movie was banned on release in Iraq seven years ago.

Stone reveals: "I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy."

Saddam, you will be missed.

Communist Block

So I got this MS Paint drawing of a "communist block" from Cody this past week. before that Cody had had a post on his blog and asking them to describe his personality traits, I left my comment and then asked him how he would describe me. I am taking this as my response.

I would say that the drawing is saying that I am sturdy like brick, which might also imply that I work well in groups (you know like a group bricks is say a wall). Clearly reflected are my communist/Eastern European leanings, though at the same time I think it shows I am a bit more stylish than your average communist Eastern European, as can be seen from carefully smuggled in blue jeans and sneakers.

Still I think the work reflects my inner aggressiveness as well. I don't like to talk about it, but the drawing clearly shows me with my arrows narrowed and hammer and sickle in hand ready to attack the first capitalist/person with money I see.

Last, but not least I think the color scheme says something about how I see the world: in block colors. Oh sure, it isn't black and white, but what does that matter if in addition to black and white there are only a few other colors allowed to tag along as the foot soldiers of black and white? Hmm?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bälle, Bälle, and more Bälle

Behold the Liechtenstein Palace! Former home of the royal family if Liechtenstein, which has since been transformed into a private museum holding much of the family's art and retaining much of their grandeur. And also home to a rather unsuccessful ball.

That doesn't bother me so much. I have to admit I am not much of a dancer and have recently just been trying to make the most of my time in Vienna and balls seemed to be a big part of that. Still, I do find the question of what makes a ball unsuccessful interesting.

Here it certainly was not the location. The palace is quite opulent, and while not the grandest in Vienna, it is all the more manageable for its size (wow, that sentence was almost snobby enough for the NY times film reviews). Anywho, the building was very nice though again difference between American and European thinking are interesting. We don't have so much old stuff so we tend to treasure it and play up its relative oldness. Europeans have loads of old stuff ('where the history comes from' as Eddie Izzard would say) and seem to get bored with it and feel the need to inject modernity. Example:
Beautiful statues, pillars, and a neon green bar. I am not such a fan though I do have a theory that Europeans see lots of old things and feel an over powering need to plop down a piece of ugly modern architecture or sign of the current century (read: neon green bar) to remind themselves that thing shave changed at least a little bit since their great grandparents were running about. I, however, feel the need to gather old things together to pretend I am living in the Europe of my great grandparents. But I digress.

This particular ball had been organized for the first time. As such there weren't so many people there (something the organizers knew and also a reason why there were free tickets available for people like me) and just a general lack of energy. The orchestra was small and seemed to break a lot compared to the bigger balls in Vienna and people didn't really seem to be dancing. So in many ways the ball never really got going.

The weirdest part though was the Slovenian dance troop at midnight. At balls you tend to look forward to midnight because that is usually when the quadrille gets going. For the quadrille people get into two lines facing each other and then are quickly given garbled instructions of how to dance. No one knows exactly what they are supposed to do and it is a lot of fun. So around midnight instead of the quadrille we had the Slovenian dance troupe (the quadrille did fortunately come later).
I don't have any really good pictures, but they were all dressed as if they came straight out of Cabaret and they danced liked it too. In their various 'dances' the woman then seemed to be competing to see who could flash their bright red panties the most. I think they were all winning. The group just sort of clashed dissonantly with the renaissance vibe of the palace and the cultured aspirations of the ball. Again it didn't bother me as such, I just wished I had been in the room when they decided "for our ball we want the most beautiful palace we can find and then the sluttiest folk-polka group we can find!" Had I been in the room, I don't think I would have spoken up.

And now an artsy picture of a chair I accidentally took:

Vienna Opera Ball

The Vienna Opera Ball came and went last Thursday. The Opera Ball is the highpoint of the Vienna ball season and being priced accordingly I was not there, but I thought it would be fun to share a bit about it. The ball in addition to being the height of the ball season, is also the height of the Viennese carnival celebrations, taking place in the State Opera, where the stage is extended to cover entire orchestra section of the opera. A series of rich dignitaries and their spoiled children then enter, prance about, and then the ball is opened for everyone (who can afford to go). The whole thing is very grand and is televised for hours on end in both Austria and Germany.

There is also the tradition that Austrian businessman Richard Lugner 'buys' a woman for the ball each year. This year it was Paris Hilton who had the honor of being paid one-million dollars to attend the ball with a gaggle of hangers-on. Poor Paris didn't have such an easy time though. Apparently when she tried to enter the country her passport had expired (fortunately the US ambassador to Austria was able to vouch with her, somehow I don't think she would do that for me), and the had things thrown at her by protesters while shopping in Vienna. She then proceeded to look extremely bored at the ball itself.

For me it was just funny because the Opera Ball is pretty much considered the height of Austrian tradition, sophistication, and grandeur. Austrians really don't like it to change as it a link to long gone imperial past. That being said, despite Paris Hilton being a celebrity (famous for being famous as they say) I don't really associate her with class. With fame, sure, money, yes, stupidity, absolutely, but not class. So for me it was just funny that whenever the Opera Ball, the symbol of Austrian sophistication, was being advertised Paris Hilton name was automatically attached, as if to say 'Hey guys the Opera Ball is really a big deal this year, not just like how we have been pretending all those other years, because the queen of America, Paris Hilton is coming.'

So one last thing. The Opera Ball as a blatant manifestation of opulent capitalism also has a really rich tradition of protests. People used to really get into it. They would yell, scream, challenge the police, and throw Molotov cocktails. Pretty exciting stuff for Austria. Anyway, for the past few years there really hasn't been much in the way of protests. Oh sure, I saw more Austrian police in one place last Thursday than I had ever seen before and they had shut down streets, but there weren't really any protesters, only some scraggly looking folks who were used to getting drunk in the subway passages in front of the opera the police had barricaded. All those police with nothing to do seemed a bit of a waste and most Austrians I have met also seem to miss the protests of the good old days.

So on one very last note, apparently there is a very similar ball in New York, which from my limited knowledge of Austrian balls looks pretty authentic. Check it out.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Slightly Snobby Grammar Note

Dear All non-Native speakers of English,

First of all thank you very much for learning English, I know it isn't always easy, but millions of English speakers everywhere appreciate you learning their language so they don't have to learn yours. Now just one small note for all of you: you can not use "too" in a negative construction, you should use "either" or "neither." For example: "I can't play the guitar" "I can't either" or "neither can I," but not "I can't play the guitar too." It's a little things I know, but if you could work on a bit I would really appreciate it.


No picture for this one.

I was sort of amused in my Russian politics class today when after one of the English kids in the class made a couple of points that two of the non-native English speakers in the class who usually understand everything gave me a look desperation. They hadn't understood a word he had said. The guy is actually really nice, but I enjoyed the moment if only because I have had so many Brits here (teachers and students) tell me that American English is bad English, that it is a dialect (which it isn't), or just generally bash the American way of saying things as either being of no consequence or innately inferior (I would say to the British equivalent, but they don't like that, I would say English English too, but they don't like that either). I guess it just amused me that despite all the assertions of superior correctness, the plethora of accents in the UK can make British accents all but incomprehensible at times.

America the Beautiful

Made a fool of myself at karaoke tonight. Not sure why that bothers my so much, but it does. Other that starting to freak out a bit about the macro economics exam on Tuesday. Still though I am enjoying the warm springy weather here, especially since I keep reading about how freezing it is back in the states. Anyway, here is another little except from a travel book preparing German speakers for America [click to enlarge]:

Basically it tells people how much Americans love their sandwiches and prepares them for the myriad of questions they can and will be faced with they try and order one. I really appreciated this entry, because you know what, I do love my sandwiches and I really miss having delis where I could get a sandwich made fresh and with a relentless assortment breads, sauces, and cold cuts that speaks to the excessive bounty of the capitalist system. Delis, I salute you!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Cossacks are Coming!

So I started a new Russian class today and my teacher decided I looked like I was of Cossack ancestry. This made me very happy. I feel the need to buy a fuzzy new hat and firmly assert this newly fabricated identity.

[cossacks are awesome]

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Flirting with Destiny

I love travel books. I like ones about other places, but especially like ones that prepare people for going to the US and tell them what crazy things they can expect Americans to do (I like to live up to expectations). Lately I've been looking at a lot of "German-American" dictionaries (in Germany and Austria people are fond of calling American English "American"), the one above was something of a mix between a travel guide and a bilingual dictionary with section specific vocabulary. The section above (click to enlarge) is the "flirt" entry.

Here are some selections from the entry, notice how they tell a story...of a date gone horribly wrong:

You have beautiful eyes [okay in the bar, bad pick up line whatever]

Do you have a steady boyfriend/girlfriend? [a few lines of small talk in, starting to get somewhere]

I'd like to sleep with you [um...presumably before sex commences]

And then things in the entry start to go wrong

I'd rather just cuddle [i.e. calm down freakazoid]

Hand Off ! [yeah...]

Get out of here! [things didn't go so well]

Please leave me alone [tears]

I wouldn't say this entry amused me, but it was a bit odd how it kind of tells a horrible horrible story, gave translations of lines you wouldn't really have time to find the book for [i.e. Hands Off!], and really envisions the worst possible outcome of the evening. Doesn't it make you want to go to sex crazed won't take no for an answer America? Yeah travel!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Church Time!

So I went to Church today. I haven't regularly gone to church for a few years now and though I've been to mass here in Vienna, I haven't felt the need to go on a regular basis. Anyway, my friend Olivia here who is from Burkina Faso invited me to go to her Church this week so I tagged along.

It was great!

It is a mainly African congregation (loads of Nigerians) and they were doing a special "Thanksgiving" celebrations, basically just a lot about thankfulness and fantastic music and dancing. Very lively and a lot of fun, it was great to come out of church and feeling energized. People had also been encourage to wear traditional African dress for the service and the colors were just brilliant.

It was also just funny walking into the Church because I and the other friend Olivia brought were pretty much the only white faces. I say funny because Olvia is the only black person at the academy so it was like a complete reversal from the norm (hey, turn about is definitely fair play!). Olivia also made a joke about that which was pretty amusing.

That being said, the odd thing was that the pastor was a white southerner (yes reminding me of my christian high school days), though he too was decked out in traditional African dress (see picture). He danced awkwardly and whitely. I was entertained.

The only thing I didn't like was the way he spoke about the tithe. For those who don't know, Christians are generally supposed to give a tithe to the Church amounting to about 10% of their income. Many people see it more as an obligation to give a tenth of your earning to others, either through the church, charity, or something else you do for others. Fair enough, I mean what people do with their money is there business just that the pastor specifically said that people should give a tenth of their welfare payment and Kindergeld (think child support from the government) to the church. That just didn't seem right. The African community in Vienna isn't too well off (many are asylum seekers) and it just seemed to me like the people receiving those payments to support their families probably needed it as much as any other charity. I don't know. Also I am skeptical when people claim to have been miraculously cured of cancer and promote faith healing over medicine, but that is just me.

Still though I had a wonderful time, the service was extremely moving and regenerating. Though the same space gets used for various other ethnic-oriented services too, so it was pretty funny how the one I went to was pretty homogeneously African, while by the time we got out the Filipinos were already lined up waiting for their turn.