Sunday, September 19, 2010

Statues, and where they go to die

Sept. 19, 2010

Settling In 

This week it has fallen to me to write Viennanotes.  We are settling into a rhythm, but we haven't quite figured out the tune.

Misti and I spend an hour or two, often more, wandering around town on Saturdays and Sundays. We've become fascinated with the seemingly infinite numbers of statues here … on buildings, on streets, in parks.  There are so many that they tend to blur out … it's hard to notice an interesting statue when it is standing in a crowd.  More on that in a bit.

Our daily rhythm is as follows:

Keir is up and out by 7:20 a.m. to walk to the corner and catch his school bus, which is a massive bus of the type rock stars tour in.   He gets home around 4ish if he doesn't have volleyball.  On weekends he heads off in the evening with his friends, usually in the historic 1st District.  Teenagers drink here, and he is slowly pushing to expand his parent-imposed limit from two beers a night (only on weekends) to three.

He's on the JV volleyball team, and yesterday they hosted American kids from Frankfurt, Germany.  Next weekend, he heads to Munich for a series of volleyball games.  He should see most of Europe before the season's over.

He's working hard on his studies – small classes, really good teachers and a lot of peer pressure seem to be motivating him.

Misti has walked countless kilometers around Vienna.  She heads out and wanders until she is lost, then finds her way home again.  She went to a newcomers meeting last week and met interesting people from Australia, Britain and Scotland.  She also learned that there is a name for her in the international community – a "trailing spouse."   That'll boost your self-image.

She's spreading her resume around town and may start some editing projects at IIASA, where I work.  Everyone has told us that there will be countless opportunities to teach ESL, and maybe there are . . . but they aren't quite as obvious when you actually look for them.  But it is early yet …

A quick word about my work before I go to more interesting things.  I'm slowly getting the basics of Dreamweaver, the web software, under control.  My job is to take science papers and projects and write about them in a way that is understandable to a broader audience.  I've been doing that for a long time, so I'm comfortable with it.  But then I have to take that material … and material from others in my department … and put it on the IIASA web site.   That is new and the source of a lot of angst.  I'm getting better, but for those of you who don't ever mess with what goes into building a web, here is something you can do right now to get a sense of it.

Go to the menu bar at the top of your computer screen (way up at the top of the screen) and click on the little thing that says "view."   Then scroll down to the thing that says "view source" and click on it.  All of that stuff you see is what I now have to worry about.  Like I said, angst.  But it is starting to make sense and it's actually interesting.

Russian War  Memorial
Beyond that, the work the IIASA scientists are doing – truly in-depth studies of global warming, population, energy and other issues of planet-wide importance – needs to be written about for a wider audience.  I'll keep you posted on how it's going.

And it remains great fun going to work in a schloss everyday.

Armpit 1
So, on to scenes from our new world.  As I said, this week's theme is statues.  Misti has noticed that there are so many of them looking at you at every moment from every possible place that paranoids would have a very hard time in Vienna.

Armpit 2
But once you get past the over-the-top, gold-leafed landscape, you find that there is a lot going on in statue world.   The image at the top of the blog, "Female Sphinx with Boobs,"  is one of a group of "Sphinx with Boobs" figures lining the massive, yet understated, garden leading up to the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.  The Belvedere is in the middle of Vienna and is home to some beautiful art, including much of the well-known work of Gustav Klimt.  His work looks less gimmicky and more impressive in person.

On our way to the Belvedere we walked by a Russian memorial that included carnations and red paint poured over the inscription.  We don't know how to interpret it … honor or vandalism.

Walking down one street we came upon a doorway above which two stone men were apparently engaged in some serious discussion about their armpits.

Controlling Passion
One of the most overwhelming statue buildings in Vienna is Parliament.  Chariots, rows of gods and assorted people.  Misti read that the men taming the horses (there are four such statues) represent  men trying to keep passion bridled -- which is considered appropriate for the Parliament.

In front of Parliament is a giant fountain -- yet another one.  There are all sorts of people inhabiting the fountain, and at first glance it is just another fountain.  Then you look closer and wonder what goes on in the halls of the Austrian parliament.  I'll leave it to your imagination, but these statues are unusually intimate.  I love the hand on the shoulder.
Thinking about Passion

If your imagination fails you, stroll around to the back of the fountain, which is so close to the Parliament building it is mostly hidden.  It isn't the same couple, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, we've started to pay a little more attention to the fountains.  I'll drop some other random statues photos in … all of you are welcome to submit captions to any of them in the comments section and we'll send the winner a T-shirt.

After the cigarette 
With all of these statues, many of them hundreds of years old, one wonders what happens to them when they finally are overwhelmed by the forces of nature and erode away.   In our wanderings a couple of weeks ago, we discovered the statue graveyard.  Legend has it that at night, when Vienna is quiet, the tired, worn statues climb down from their buildings and make their way to this place.   At least that's how I translated the German.
A body in the graveyard 

Another behind the scenes place – not as cool as the statue graveyard but still pretty cool – is the place where they keep the Lipanzzer Stallions of the famous Spanish Riding School.  In the arena, these are the rock stars of dancing horses, elegant, regal … all of those things.  But go down a back street and they are a bunch of white horses in stalls next to the wheelbarrows and stacks of hay.   Worse than that, some of them, including the big stars of the past, are for sale for a mere 15,000 Euros.

They can dance 
And speaking of cigarettes, being in Austria is a bit like being in the US in the 70s and 80s in that the number of people who smoke is very high.  They smoke in all of the restaurants, although most places have no smoking sections.

The smell of cigarette smoke is common and something we haven't seen in a long time -- cigarette machines -- are pretty much everywhere.  Here is an image, just for old times sake.
On every streetcorner
We hope you all are well, and if you can get here we can provide you with a room with your own chandelier. 

Take care …
Jim, Misti and Keir