Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vienna On The Verge

We are on the verge of December, which means the Viennese are already deep into the Christmas season.  The Christmas markets are open, the decorative lights over the streets and plazas are lit (including our Wahringerstrasse electric blue Christmas clouds), and the weather has turned appropriately cold.

Merry Christmas
Misti and I have been off to the Christmas markets in search of gifts that are uniquely Viennese.  The markets are appealing, especially the smaller ones, because you can drink warm, mulled wine while you wander the booths, and unlike the stores, they are open all weekend.

As always in our outings, we come upon surprises.  One recent cold, wet Saturday we were wandering with no particular purpose and beginning to think better of it when we turned a corner and were met with a parade that encompassed much of the European military past.

 We still don't know exactly what it was about, but it was like watching a history book march by.  The pictures don't do it justice.  The horses were enormous.

Most of what we've been doing, however, has centered around Keir's activities.  We've always enjoyed watching our kids play sports, perform in plays, do music and the like.  Keir, as the last of the herd, has dutifully provided us with years of basketball and baseball games, as well as a few wrestling meets and karate events.

For the past few months he's been on his high school varsity volleyball team, and once we figured out the rules, volleyball has proved as exciting as the other sports.  As with everything over here, what is routine is, for us, exotic.

Keir's school hosted the high school volleyball championship tournament, so Keir played against students from Athens, Tel Aviv, Brussels, Munich, Dusseldorf and a few other schools.  We had boys from the Brussels team stay with us, one American and one Swedish, although neither one of them had spent much time in their home countries.

That is typical in the international community.  Keir has noticed that in discussions about America in his classes, he is just about the only American student who has spent much time actually living in the States.  There are a few others like him at the school, but most of the kids have lived all over the world as their diplomat/business parents move from assignment to assignment.  Some of the American kids were born outside of the U.S. and have only visited their "home country" a few times.  Keir finds it interesting, and sometimes amusing, when other students tell him what it's like in the U.S., having never lived there.

Misti ran into a more extreme situation recently when some Viennese women lectured her on American traditions.

The details are secondary, but it had to do with a planned school celebration.  Misti would say something like, "I've lived in the US all my life and had three other children go through American high schools.  What you are suggesting isn't an American tradition." The Viennese women would continue talking over her about the need to do the celebration just so because it was an American tradition.  Reality seems not to matter in much of life.

Keir's team played well in the volleyball tournament and made it to the final four.  As he was playing his last set, Misti and I realized that after more than 30 years of being parents, this was likely the last high school sports event we'd attend, at least until the grandchildren become teens.

But as the thrill of victory and agony of defeat thing came to an end, Keir announced that he was upholding a family tradition of playing in a rock band. I was in one back when the Vanilla Fudge were popular, and Dylan spent a couple of years playing in a great band in New York.  In addition, my half-brother Adam is the drummer for the Virginia Coalition, and Keir's big brother Reeve is currently in Miami recording his songs with a group of fellow musicians. So we were off to a talent show where he played lead guitar in a good version of Shiver by Coldplay.

As is evident from the photos, Keir is rather intense when he plays.  His guitar, by the way, is a Schecter.  The band was good.

While we're on the topic of musicians, they are everywhere downtown this time of year, mostly playing German/Austrian tunes.  Here are a couple of images from recent weeks.

I'll conclude with Thanksgiving, which, obviously, doesn't exist in Austria.  Apparently it is one American tradition the Viennese women aren't interested in upholding.   Because there are many Americans at the institute where I work, however, there is an annual Thanksgiving luncheon that is spectacular.

Beyond the setting in the palace cafeteria (see photo), the lunch includes turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans, carrots, and pumpkin and apple pie.   Excellent red and white Austrian wine was served and we enjoyed lively, delightful conversation with people originally from Britain, Argentina, the Philippines, and Texas.

Traditional Thanksgiving
Turkey is hard to come by in Austria, but the cooks for the luncheon did an amazing job.  They had to cook 16 turkeys in an oven that only held four (it is an industrial kitchen, but not as industrial as it needed to be).  The cooks started at 3 a.m. to get everything done in time, and their reward was to walk through the several palace dining rooms to resounding applause from the well-fed throng.  The pilgrims would have been proud.

Cafe Central
Keir, as he did last year at this time, spent the week in Braga, Portugal, working on a house for Habitat for Humanity, and, again, the local restaurant prepared a traditional American Thanksgiving meal exclusively for his classmates and him.

We likely will have a quiet Christmas this year, but with blue clouds out our windows and the city decorated like no other, we'll spend hours walking and enjoying the streets.  It's sort of becoming a tradition.


  1. Well we'll miss not having you around. Hopefully we will get to Vienna next year.

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