November 30, 2006

Domestic scenes

Pictures in cooperation with Thomas, here cleaning his room with this remarkable invention.

I have to remember not to keep throwing banana peel and half-eaten apples into my less-than-frequently emptied trash bin - I came upon some nasty surprises today while frantically rummaging through it looking for an important document. It seems to be running in the family lately. Speaking of which, I got a fantastic package today from home!

In between lessons today, I made a visit to a familiar friend - the cash machine. Today I realised my financial strategy needs a makeover and it's not always wise to take out cash every day in minuscule amounts. As a result, I marvelled at all the different-coloured bills Herr Bankomat spat out for me. Maybe I need some kind of financial advisor? (I already have a strong candidate for this).

Anita shares a midnight laugh with her roommate in the Hungarian room.

Our apartment has been putting on some entertainment for us again. I don't know whether "entertainment" is the right term for flash flooding in our bathroom, but it certainly made my jaw drop when I looked out of the shower and saw my house shoes swimming all over the place. On top of it all, the warm water finished again. In an act of bravery, Petra literally plunged into dangerous waters after having come home from aerobic while Thomas kept the mood up with x-rated stories of unnamed body parts which needed a wash.

Anyway, so if our desperate efforts to stop the flooding (see picture) don't do the trick, we'll be making some desperate phone calls tomorrow. Otherwise, all is fine at our home. Supplies on essential household items are on the plus side again (although if someone doesn't buy toilet paper soon we're looking at some big problems), if you know what I mean (this reminds me I haven't yet written my promised entry on Austrian toilets).

No idea who this crazy guy is.

It's getting really late but that's okay because technically I can sleep until 15 o'clock tomorrow. I got a job accompanying a choir in a concert in January. We're not talking about your regular four-voice accompaniment - one of the pieces in the programme is Brahms's "Schicksalslied", a major work originally for orchestra and choir. I'm looking at a lot of work to make the piano sound like the Berliner Philharmoniker, but I'm looking forward to it! I'm also very much looking west - to my bed. I hope you enjoyed the post! Don't forget to check out what was in today!

November 27, 2006

Midnight heat

I can't sleep. Well, I slept almost ten hours last night, so I suppose sleeping only six hours this night (because I think that's the most I'm going to get) will sort of compensate. Still I'm not looking forward to tomorrow morning's shock therapy.

I thought maybe it's time for another midnight snack and the minute I thought of it, I felt hungry and stumbled through the dark into the kitchen. Now I feel really guilty about attacking a jar of Nutella that wasn't mine. Must remember to leave Silvia and Thomas an extra-special post-it tomorrow. But at least the raspberry yoghurt was mine.

I added some new links to the sidebar. Feel free to browse.

By the way, does anyone else find this advertisement funny? Or does it only appeal to my twisted humour. Whatever. I kiss my geographically split world goodnight.

November 24, 2006

In the last moments of consciousness...

... I publish this entry. It looks like we have finally made it to the end of the week. Phew! A heavy line to draw across the calendar I have stored in my head. The Christmas season kicked off today with the opening of the Christkindlmarkt on Hauptplatz. Maybe I'll check it out tomorrow. On the other hand, I really feel like a spontaneous day trip somewhere. I think I'll jump on the train and get out somewhere in Slovenia. Anything to break the neverending cycle that is day-to-day routine.

When it comes to fashion, Graz's inhabitants take pride in their progressiveness.

Turkish pop has been blasting on my iPod this week thanks to Melissa, who has been busy introducing me into the multifaceted genre. God knows what Sertab Erener's soulful lament is all about, but boy did it reflect my gloomy mood some days ago. Things got better on Wednesday, however, in the aftermath of our university's orchestra's concert in the Stephaniensaal. After the obligatory Schnitzl with Kartoffelsalat at Gösser, I followed some friends to their communal home on the other side of the river Mur - a district with the charming name of Gries. I returned home at noon the next day.

My impact has reached all the way to the Styrian wine industry.

Yesterday, I also visited a choir rehearsal conducted by my fabulous singing teacher. Not for the first time, I asked myself what is it that makes Schumann's a cappella music for choir somehow boring and meaningless? Today, I spent almost four hours in the solitude of a class in the university. Just me, an Erard concert grand and Yamaha grand piano, and a bunch of choir music. Next up in our choral conducting class will be two - shall we say uncomfortable? - works: Schnittke's requiem and Beethoven's ninth symphony. Schnittke's orchestration is perplexing at the least - unless you are a fan of combinations such as piano, organ, electrical guitar and tam tam. Not the easiest piece to study! As for Beethoven, well, some of his choral output is just horribly unsingable.

An architectural gem in Gries.

Airliner World's newest issue has finally arrived, and believe it or not, it includes an article about a plane journey from Singapore to Canada, with stops in UUS (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) and none other than PKC (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskyi), featuring a breathtaking picture of the Koryaksky and Avachinsky volcanoes just outside the town. Not surprisingly, I spent yesterday evening surfing websites of travel agencies arranging adventure tours in the wilderness of this remote part of the world. Tight budgets aren't very popular here - let's just say I'll have to stuff some more coins up the piggy bank's backside before you'll find me skidding down the Bogdanovich glacier.

November 20, 2006

Another Monday post

I woke up today to various alarm clocks in the house before my own one burst into its annoyingly chirpy monotony. My body felt like it was glued to the sheets, and my first thought was: "At least it's not Monday". Well, as it happened, it was Monday. Breakfast in a hurry - I'd like to know just how long Monica is planning on displaying her culinary skills for the rest of us. We're on day three, and I know some meals actually get better as the ingredients mush deeper into each other, but I don't think they include vegetable stew.

On the way to the university, I felt a faint wave of nausea when passing Rosamunde, our ever-faithful kebab-pizzeria (student discounts on all pizzas). The day's first lesson went nicely, and things definitely started going uphill with a visit to the library. The aptly named Frau Scherzer, who runs it, is the best librarian in the world - Finnish counterparts are often so depressing, don't you think? I listened to some Wagner in the cd library, presided by an alarmingly pale blonde whose head is always stuck in a huge book of crossword puzzles. She always seems so dazed I feel like striking some wild folk dance infront of her to see whether there is any reaction at all.

It was already raining when I walked to the catholic student union's cafeteria for lunch. The food was just a little better today than it has been the last few times - I used my last lunch coupon on some stringy meat and soggy brussels sprouts, then walked back to the Kunstuni for the second lesson of the day. I came home then, and passed by our neighbours' to pick up the contract they had made for our use of the internet. Now I really understand the meaning of Austrian bureaucracy, but after taking a good look at all the small print we naturally signed the contract. The mailbox was depressingly empty again (well, at least today's Finnair plus letter was better than last week's S-market customer newsletter!!) - I don't know what's taking Airliner World so long.

Today's harp lesson was fun - we have a group lesson tomorrow, and I'm supposed to play my variations I've been working on for ages (by a certain John Thomas). I spent about half an hour practising the same three bars the other day and they are still a nightmare. By the way, the next time I don't know what to write about, somebody remind me that I have to write an entry on harp classes in music universities. Believe me, they deserve a chapter of their own!

After the harp lesson, I indulged in some window shopping (again) with a friend. Now I'm at home, finally, and on my second cup of tea. Anita is finally back from Hungary (but things will be back to normal after tomorrow - she's going back for a night) and we just gathered in the Romanian room. Everyone seems to have had a really tough day, and Silvia decided the time was ripe to bring out her stash of chocolate bars while Petra lent Thomas, who was falling asleep on the sofa, her absolutely huge soft teddy bear. It's going to be a very busy next two days, so it's time to wrap up this entry, say "come and go", and go to bed.

Good night!

November 18, 2006


One of the many things I really enjoy is coming upon things which take me back in time. Time seems to lose all meaning when, for that one split second, I find myself in a moment which happened weeks or even years ago. People forget things in their own history too quickly. Last week, I was in the home of my teacher in Vienna. I was browsing through his music library when I came upon something time-stoppingly familiar: the video cassette I sent him along with the application for this exchange year. Seeing it, I couldn't help but give myself a huge smile and think how bizarre it actually felt to be where I was right at that moment. If only we could be transported to future moments just as easily!

Welcome to our baptism archives - exactly who were you looking for?

Moving on to other subjects: One of the great things about having internet at home is browsing the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Did you know there is even a site called Wikitravel, with practical information on virtually every place in the world? Are Lonely Planet's days over? Surely not, for they keep publishing more and more wonderful travel literature. One of their most mouth-watering new books is a pictorial called "A guide to the middle of nowhere", featuring remote places all over the world. Special chapters on Helsinki!*

A reminder of a faraway place (in time and in geography) in a Viennese home.

Listening to rehearsals of the Brahms Requiem in Vienna reminded me that this truly is the most wonderful piece of music ever composed for choir and orchestra (you'll just have to forget I said this when I switch back to the B minor mass). It's not every day you get to hear a performance of such a work with such fantastic performers. It would be wonderful to work on this piece, maybe for my diploma exam (don't make any other plans for autumn 2054 - you heard it here first). I wouldn't mind working with the Berliner Philharmoniker, nor Wiener Singverein. And come to think of it, maybe I'll just invite Simon Rattle to conduct it.

This is pure marketing. I'm expecting reader rates to go through the roof with this - my first ever official release of a picture with two of my comrades, published with their graceful permission :)

By the way, I think the management of Austrian Airlines reads my blog - I might be wrong but my theory goes that they got a huge boost in self-confidence from my praise about their Middle East destinations. Flights from Vienna to Erbil, Iraq will commence in March - book your seat now!

*I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist that :) Please apologise my mean joke.

November 17, 2006

Prophecy fulfilled

The ingredients had been cooking for weeks. Signs and omens were all over the place, from Hungarian eyebrows to French smirks. All 110 square metres seemed to hold their breath in anticipation, until - BAM!!- an hour ago it happened. Our first house fight.

Anxious readers should lay aside their worries - after all, I'm still here to write about it. It was 23:00 o'clock and our small flock of disoriented youngsters was getting ready for bed, when something in the air snapped, doors were slammed, lights were turned back on, and we all found ourselves in the kitchen, as if magically brought together just for this purpose. The kitchen plays a very active part in our small kingdom. Decisions are made over breakfast (or is it yesterday's dinner), shopping lists scribbled while waiting for the water to boil and problems discussed - after all, it's the place where most of the problems are. On a happier note, it is also the place where we say hello to the first person of the day.

Technically speaking, we were not all present. Our invisible flatmate (I'm starting to wonder whether she is just my imaginary friend) is gone once again, and one of us pretended to sleep through the racket. Many things were finally spat out, and shall we say not always in the friendliest way. Apart from our vocal chords, the tension was clearly visible in other ways - cigarette smoke was all over the place and the girls lost half of their nails during the 20 minutes or so.

We all ran out of steam at some point and things took an unexpected turn when each one felt like doing something really nice for the others. Wiping cloths appeared from nowhere and the dishwashing detergent started flowing. In a determined act of catharsis, one of us tore down all the post-its and even the weekly work list down from the walls and threw them into the garbage. Our official slogan starting today: "Let's start from the beginning". I even got such amorous comments as "That was the first time (I had such an argument with anybody)".

The lights have been turned off again, the kitchen is glowing, toilet paper has been taken out from hiding places and doors have been tenderly closed shut. And I think I just heard our front door heave a sigh of relief.

Good night.

November 11, 2006

Last draft

A morning moment in Merangasse 52.

Here I am, typing away in my dark room here at my great-aunt's house in Vienna. Well, biologically speaking, she is not my great-aunt, but the ex-wife of my great-uncle in Ecuador. It's a long story and I think we've had enough family history for a while.

This is clearly not my day for blogging. I've already written two entries and then deleted them. In the first, I tried to write a funny account of my 2,5h trip from Graz to Vienna. The thing is, nothing funny really happened. In the second one, I wrote down some reasons why this is one of the best cities to be. It sounded like something out of a bad guidebook. I'm going to give it one more chance and then go to bed.

It's funny how I usually have ideas for my next entries, but coming up with one just now seems so difficult. I could write about the wonderful shops I have been in today and yesterday, or about how I felt today when I found a travel magazine whose latest issue was dedicated entirely to Finland, with beautiful pictures and informative articles. I could turn this into an account of all the wonderful things which have been happening in the past days and how I feel right now about the future or list some really great pieces of music in b minor (apart from the one you're thinking of now).

Or how about just writing about small things people have done or said to me last week - things which have made me suddenly laugh out in the street. They would probably not sound too good in a blog. Or how about just following a foolproof formula and writing an entry with lists of stuff. You know, I could just choose the best pictures I have taken last month and publish them here without further ado. I've always wanted to write a short story, maybe this would be the right forum for that. No inspiration right now.

No, I'm sorry, I can't think of anything now. I'll just have to keep my readers waiting. Good night, wherever you are!

Question of the month: "So these Shakespeare songs - is the text by Mäntyjärvi as well?" Take a bow, my anonymous classmate :) And there, I wasn't able to hold that one back!

November 04, 2006


About a hundred years ago, an Iraqi sheikh had a quarrel with his sons. As an envoy for the Ottoman government, he believed Turkey could bring civilization and stability to the Arab world, but when the Turks lost the war, he left the country, only to be seen once in the streets of Damascus, where he walked away from his family and was never heard of again.

At around the same time, thousands of miles away in a small village in Northern Bohemia, a hat-maker baptised his first son. Thirty years later, the mother of this child buried her husband in Vienna and, taking the advice of her doctor who suggested she move to the mountains where the climate would be more beneficial for her health, she packed her bags and left to South America, where three of her children were already living with families of their own.

A civil service worker stationed in Cardiff, Wales, was huddling in a bomb shelter with his family during a German air raid. Several times they thought they heard the bombers approaching the city, but it turned out to be the loud purring of their cat Jimmy. Their younger daughter later met an Iraqi musician studying in London, got married and left Europe. Her parents were sure she had been sold to the slave market.

A mother in Hamburg was always waiting for her husband to come back from sea. The moments when she stood on the docks of the harbor, waiting for the first glimpse of his ship returning from faraway places, were moments she would talk about years later as a great-grandmother. In 1955, her 19-year old daughter wanted to see some of the world and persuaded her parents to let her travel on her father’s ship to a small South American country called Ecuador. She never came back.

A dark-haired girl was staring at the dark desert outside the night bus between Baghdad and Damascus like she did every summer on this 16-hour trip, and far away in Quito two brothers fell into a container of cows’entrails in the meat factory their European ancestors had built. Years later, these two people found themselves in the Soviet Union, living in an apartment where the porcelain toilet seat was the most beautiful object in their home, and somewhere far away an already grown-up woman opened her atlas to find a country she had heard was covered with trees and snow, a country called Finland.

My family’s story has always been a story about people saying good-bye. It’s about queuing for hours for an international phone call, children not knowing who their uncles and aunts are and countless trips to the airport to see loved ones off. Times have changed and telegrams have become emails, trips which used to take weeks can now be made in a single day and generations can even communicate with each other through webcams, but the good-byes are still the same as they were years ago.

But there is more to the story than the farewells. There are letters arriving after their long trips with pictures and birthday cards. There are brave people who aren’t afraid to plunge into unknown worlds. Best of all, there are airplanes bringing sons, daughters and grand-children back home for the first time in eight years. And there is that unspoken feeling that no matter how far people live from each other, there is always something that connects them: the stories which are being passed on to the next generation.

This post is dedicated to my ancestors.

November 02, 2006

Hold that thought.

Austria is a modern country, as can be seen at Graz’s downtown Spar, where you are able to get your groceries without so much as a glance at a cashier. This is made possible by the automated check-out points where you simply scan your items and pay for them by throwing the money in a machine. An innovative step towards hassle-free shopping - or perhaps a sad omen that those brief personal encounters with actual human beings behind the counter will soon be history? Future will tell either way. I myself still couldn’t use the damned things, accidentally scanning my chocolate biscuits three times today, prompting an exasperated shop assistant to grab my shoppings and do the whole thing herself. Duh.

This picture was taken last weekend at the top of the Schöckl-mountain (almost 1500 m) about half an hour from Graz.

Our fridge is the biggest mystery on the planet. It’s about half the size of my old fridge and still, somehow, miraculously, food for six people manages to get squashed inside. I think I am one day going to empty the whole thing and search for hidden niches or even refrigerated corridors. You also need to be very relaxed and in a patient state of mind before attacking the fridge. As an example, when I was getting myself a midnight snack the other day, I had to rummage through countless colorful piles and lop-sided towers of food before I found what I wanted. Mission completed, I tried to close the door shut, but it wouldn’t close, deciding it was time for one of its unnerving guessing games. The guessing games work like this: the fridge keeps you guessing what is going to get stuck between the door once you try to close it shut. That protruding tube of mustard on the inside of the door? No. I get it, one of the lower drawers hasn’t been pushed in properly. Still won’t close. Maybe this container of oh-my-God-I –thought-we-finished-this-last-month! Usually, the answer is right before your eyes.

Once again, a small detail from our home. Full points for the one who spots my cup.

I’ve been visiting Moser almost every other day and making visits to the English Bookstore. The signs couldn’t be more obvious – it’s time to read more fiction. Anna Karenina is not going to be around for very long now, if you know what I’m saying, and I already have my eyes set on future reading prospects. There’s a new novel by Syrian author Rafik Schami – he writes in German and his books are set in Damacus. But first, I’ll probably gobble up Haruki Murakami’s latest book, called Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman (or was it Blind Woman and Sleeping Willow, I can’t remember). I must say that if I could be a fictional character for one day, I would definitely want to turn into somebody from Murakami’s novels. His protagonists are such ordinary and human people it makes reading about their thoughts and lives fascinating, not to mention the absolutely surreal things that happen to them.

Another book on my agenda is DBC Pierre’s “Ludmilla’s broken English”. I read his first novel, “Vernon God Little”, a couple of years ago when it won the Booker prize. It was such a whacky and shockingly hilarious/hilariously shocking piece of fiction it made quite an impression on me, and I can’t wait to see whether this second oeuvre of his will be as good. If I understood correctly, it deals with bride websites, illegal immigration and conjoined twins. Pass it on!

One of Graz's main stages, the opera house. I saw Lortzing's opera Zar und Zimmermann there. Especially the scene where the choir rehearses a festive cantata under a hysterical conductor was huge fun. The music was actually composed in a way that the singers kept starting from the wrong key.

I should probably take advantage of my time here in Austria to really get under the skin of the country. How do people really live in this Alpine nation? We all know about the stereotypes, I mean come on, it all begins on entering an Austrian Airlines’ airplane (I mean, full points for Austrian, but have you ever seen such ugly working uniforms). Anyway, so I figured there must be more to this country than having a Schnitzl while the latest record of the Vienna Boys’ Choir plays in the background (what was that horribly tacky movie called where the choirboys are standing on top of a hill, rehearsing a freshly composed tune all reading from the same score, I mean it gives a whole new perspective to the term “prima vista by heart”) , and so I’m considering making a weekend trip to Salzburg to take the “Sound of Music”-tour. From what I’ve found out, it includes a coach trip through the countryside where Julie Andrews kept falling on her backside every time that helicopter swooped over her in the opening scene, and singing along to your favourite things is obligatory.

By the way, I hate Austrian toilets. I really do. Don’t even get me started on them.