January 28, 2007

Every blade of singing grass

This is a BBC-like "Week in pictures"-post. I've also added a selection of highlights from the past seven days:

- Sight-reading Finnish choral music with two French people in my room and realising how much they enjoyed it.
- Gazing out at the dark snowy hilltops from the train to Leoben.
- First Schnittke Requiem rehearsal with the instrumentalists: the climaxing movement of the piece, Credo, is like an ecstatic cacophony suffused with, among others, latin rhythms on the drums and the sopranos braving an inhumanely high note.
- Being officially accepted in Graz's Spanish mafia (after initial skepticism over my "Ecuadorian lifestyle")
- Yesterday's concert with Chor Pro Musica Graz.
- This moment, listening to Sting's "I was brought to my senses" and getting my thoughts together.

Our front door during Graz's rainy season. Monday.

A tempting selection on a display screen. Leoben railway station. Tuesday.

View from my room. Friday.

Natasha and Adria taking a short pause from Schnittke.

chor pro musica graz backstage. Saturday.

Sunday morning on our balcony.

In Romania, they say that seeing an airplane in the sky means somebody loves you. My flatmates have stopped counting since they came to Graz.

January 21, 2007

Alternative partying OR Multicultural Graz: Part 1

Yesterday was probably one of the most bizarre Saturday evenings I have spent during the exchange year until now. We were at a ball organised by the Hungarian community in Graz. Asked later what I thought about it, I replied: "It was like being in a ridiculous dream from which I wake up and think WHERE did that dream come from". That pretty much sums it up.

As I have mentioned before, our flat has some strong ties to Hungary and yesterday a commotion was raised when the girls found out about a Hungarian party somewhere outside of town. Two people from our flat already had other plans, so it was up to the rest of us to go and explore. There was some considerable drama, however, before we could leave - the party was going to be fancy, so the girls reached for their evening gowns and mascara, but in the end not all of us could cope with this heavy dress code and so three of us left the apartment with absolutely no idea what was waiting for us.

The party was out of town, so we were picked up by the girls' Hungarian friends in a car. Now, a ball might sound grand to anybody, but in reality the party was being held in shabby Restaurant Franz next to a gas station. A faded beauty in a golden dress wobbled past us tipsily on the parking lot and we could hear the ominous sound of oom-pah oom-pah coming from the building - reassured, we walked in.

I had just managed to think to myself "at least nobody knows I'm here" (my flatmates don't count in these things) when I was greeted by a loud "Dani, what are YOU doing here??!!??". As it turned out, some of my middle-aged colleagues from Chor Pro Musica Graz had come to the party as well. The place was full of excited Hungarians in their 40s to 70s, some in national costume, all of them living it up on the dance floor accompanied by a playback band consisting of three drunk men, one of them with an alarmingly Dschinghis Khan-like moustache.

Petra hit it off straight away, and in the end Silvia and I decided to join the hullabaloo and start dancing (it took some swigs of really bad wine - 1,50€ a glass - before we could muster the courage). Since we were non-Hungarians, Silvia had come up with a cover-up plan in the car ("I'll just say I'm Finnish, too - isn't Hungarian somehow related?"). However, the way we improvised wild Hungarian folk dances was probably convincing enough.

As it happened, our first song lasted about half an hour and was something of a medley of your favourite Hungarian hit songs. Many people sang along in total ecstasy and some songs had a certain dancing pattern to them which we imitated with a backlog of about 10 seconds. There were so many people spinning about that we were both constantly bashing each other into unknown elbows, knees and heels, but both escaped relatively unharmed. Every time we thought the piece was over, the wild Mongol cranked up the bass on his music box, a new song started, and the crowd cheered at the top of their lungs.

Taking a break from the dances, we checked out the cds the band was selling of their music. It was titled something like "The World's Most Ever Favourite Songs" and a closer inspection of the track list revealed pieces like "Shake It" and "The Road to Hell". We didn't think it was worth spending 10 euro on and sat down to finish our really shitty wine.

About an hour later, Silvia was on her seventh cigarette and I was on my third round of Snake III when Petra and her friends finally appeared from the "ballroom" and said we could leave. It was certainly experience - now I know what to expect next time!

The morning after: strolling up to the Schlossberg.

January 20, 2007

Cleaning rage

Graz rooftops.

It started at ten in the evening with some casual dish-washing. First my own dishes, then I felt like doing something for the others so I washed their dishes as well. Then I found some more uncleaned dishes next to the stove and on our small kitchen table. Might as well wash those, too. More detergent, more washing.

Now that the dirty dishes were gone, the dirty surfaces of our kitchen were exposed in all their filthiness - round stains of all sizes from coffee cups and spilled juice, solidified ashes sticking to the table and greasy drops. They had to go, so I wet the cloth we use for cleaning the tables etc and started scrubbing. Then I put some forks and knives back to their drawers and, for the first time, realised how unorganised the drawer was from the inside - and dirty as well.

The girls were all at a party (albeit separate ones if I understood correctly) and Thomas was using my laptop to communicate with his girlfriend (he found a new programme called VoipDiscount and apparently it's better than Skype) - the flat was practically mine. Mine to do what I wanted in it and mine to make it look like I wanted. I had nothing better to do, so I took the drawer out and cleaned it. Next came the cupboards, stove and fridge.

Before I knew it, I was chasing the vacuum cleaner across the kitchen floor (it has huge cracks in it and food falls into them - it's really not a pretty sight unless you're a fan of last week's dinner's debris) and into the corridor. I made a trip to throw the garbage, then noticed huge piles of old newspapers and magazines right at our front door (how could I not see them before??) so I made some more trips downstairs to get rid of them, after hanging everyone's umbrellas neatly next to the door.

The only sounds were some muffled French from the Romanian room (the internet connection is the best there) and my own breathing, which, I realised, started getting louder and louder. I went into the bathroom and cleaned it. Sink, washing machine, bathtub, mirrors. The only thing I could think about was cleaning. Every other thought vanished, nothing was more important than this scrubbing and tidying.

I felt like screaming "somebody stop me!" but I don't think anyone would have. I was starting to sweat and feel uncomfortable - off with these outdoor clothes! I put the vacuum cleaner back in the storage room and attacked the toilet. Universal-Reiniger for the floors and WC-Reiniger for the seat. Watch me go!

Everything ends, though, and after a (lukewarm) shower I came to my room and realised what a mess it was, but I left it just as it was and sat down to my dinner and an episode of Lost. It's really late now. Good night.

January 17, 2007


In the Austrian dialect, there is a huge amount of words ending with an i. Aufi abi linksi rechtsi hubsi schwubsi schatzi babsi wischi waschi mitzi rutschi schlafi... As you can imagine, all essential words in any local conversation. I am also learning that "ich auch" translates into "i a" here and that the correct way of counting things begins with "oans zwa". But when you go into the details, it all gets so much more intriguing - my goal is not to leave Austria before I can differentiate between the different dialects and aurally separate a Steirer from an Oberösterreicher.

Moodiness is a strange thing. Often it just takes a few words to cheer you up or send your mood spiralling further into unfathomable abysses. Feeling a little glum today at choir rehearsal (maybe because my home-made lunch had been a real lowlight in the list of my most recent gastronomic creations) I sat munching on a mushy banana (see quote of the day on sidebar ->) when a soprano from the choir suddenly walked up to me and started chatting.

At first she seemed to just want to strike a conversation, but when I told her about my studies, she opened up her heart to me: "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't obligatory for the singers. I hate choirs. I can't STAND them. I used to sing in choirs a lot when I was small and now I just can't listen to them. It's horrible." Of course my first reaction was a certain degree of astonishment - I mean, if you had blue eyes, what would you reply to someone who came up to you and told you all blue-eyed people were disgusting?

But then suddenly I just felt like laughing out loud. This person (who, by the way, looked like a grasshopper with the head of a bee) just came out of nowhere and cheered me up just by telling me her simple opinion. But it got better - she started explaining that she could ONLY work in choirs where there were two times more men than women because women's voices were always so dominant in choirs (at this point I could still follow), and that she would prefer children to be added to the choirs to even out the heavy sound of adults (here I wasn't sure whether she was pulling my leg) and in general the worst thing for HER was that she of course was a coloratura soprano (I had a hard time keeping a straight face) and did those colleagues of hers really call themselves sopranos???

I really don't know how to explain why she cheered me up. I've been trying to, but I've erased lots of sentences until now. It's not that I thought she was a bag of laughs and made fun of her in my mind - quite on the contrary. Every once in a while (but quite rarely) people come from nowhere and surprise you with their words. I felt really refreshed. Nobody wants to hear the same routine sentences again and again.

January 16, 2007

Coming soon

In just over two weeks, things are going to change radically at our flat. The winter semester is coming to a close and three of our fifty-second-hand beds will be bearing another set of disoriented exchange students. Of course the end of the semester also means a four-week vacation for all of us. Trips back to Bucharest are being arranged (train, bus or plane? The debate rages on!), amorous phone calls to France are getting longer by the day and one of us can't wait to find out who will share one of the huge double rooms with her (there are vague plans to commit murder in cold blood and elope with the writer of this blog - I'll keep you posted).

As for me, well, the plans are even vaguer. At the moment, there's no time for me to pay too much thought to the vacations (well, if you know me well you'll know this means the only thing missing is the minute schedule for day twelve). No but seriously, I don't even know where I will go. I'll have to pull myself together in the weekend and make an attack on the railway timetables and Google Earth.

Where to go? The choices are endless.

As I was saying, there's a lot to do right now, with three concerts coming up in the next two weeks and the usual study schedules chugging along on their slippery but steady tracks. I left before nine this morning, came back home, went out again to have lunch with Thomas, made some quick shopping at Spar, and went back to lessons. After orchestral conducting, I came home because I wanted to pay our downstairs neighbours for the internet. As it always happens, they were feeling talkative and I was there a whole hour discussing, among other things, the Middle East (they are both architects and have made archeological excavations somewhere in the region) and Helsinki's Jugendstil-architecture (they've seen it).

A little reluctantly yet with a steady will-power, I ran back up to get my things and left back to the university to do some work on my own - but not before Petra, who's enjoying her days alone in the flat studying for an important exam tomorrow, read my mind and stuffed a half-empty biscuit back into my hands with the somewhat robotic words "Mitnehmen! Zur Uni gehen! Essen!". In choral conducting class, we are working on Haydn's "Creation" as well as Schnittke's Requiem, which we're going to perform next week. A recent sneak peak into next semester's programme revealed two of the pieces we'll be working on: Frank Martin's a cappella mass and Stravinsky's "Les Noces". Next time I find myself thinking I would prefer to work on something completely unknown to me, I'll tell myself to shut up and treat myself to the hundreds of scores and cds in our library.

January 14, 2007

Back to the future

Frankfurt airport's traditional boarding pass auction at full swing.

And so, as if at the push of a button, the days spent in Graz are counting again. I arrived home on Thursday evening to find the kitchen clean (maybe Petra's death threats on the cupboards helped), my house shoes where I left them (on this side of the bed under the black plastic chair) and my table empty (it had been used as a workspace for making a puzzle and all my things were in the bookshelf).

Friday was spent in the Kunstuni and Spar. Yesterday was celebrated with a marathon rehearsal of Schnittke's Requiem. In the evening, our flat's dark-haired duo from the pusta hosted one of their popular Hungarian evenings - missing one of these is hard, especially if you live with them. I was initiated into the popular tradition of drinking palinka, a home-made brandy which always flows copiously at these ethnic gatherings. Expecting nothing more than a little warm kindling in the stomach, the first swig took my voice away. It remained the evening's only swig.

After that, we headed to Kulturhauskeller, a bar/nightclub in a huge cellar just a few blocks away. It was absolutely packed with students and the music was so loud I couldn't hear anything for about ten minutes after leaving (I told you these were fun!).

At around four today, I was cooking spaghetti and the others were staring into space in a post-palinka/nightclub slumber when our landlady called and told us she needed something from our flat and could she come over now? Absolutely delighted, we sprang into action - the sacks of garbage were taken down, dishes were cleared away and I learned some new Romanian swear words. The result of the visit: one of us lost her writing table. It's good for her that she seems to be going around in a sort of ecstatic daze or she probably would not have dismissed the whole thing as "not a problem".

The only things I forgot at home are my toothbrush and notebook. I got a new one with a tongue-cleaner in the back. A toothbrush, that is.

January 05, 2007


I'm having a break from posting and it's possible I won't write anything until I go back to Graz next week. The vacations are coming to an end but there are still things to enjoy! And what with text messages arriving from Merangasse, the knowledge that bit by bit everyone is trickling back home, and lots of huge expectations on what's to come (the autumn raised the bar high), there are a lot of things to look forward to. But just like I felt three months ago, I'm excited about coming back in the autumn.

I finished a fantastic book and was very moved by it, then I watched the last episode of my favourite tv show and was also very moved by it. I've also got to know some really great songs from artists I'd like to find more from. Once more, you can check out my latest interests from the sidebar.

And I haven't done any of the work I brought with me to take a look at because I thought I'll have so much time when I won't know what to do with myself.

Well, this is the end of this lifesignal. See you!