April 25, 2007


I've wanted to mention this for a long time, but a while ago I realised someone had put his or her toothbrush and toothpaste in the same cup where I keep mine. They have been there for so long now I'm starting to get interested - does this mean anything? A discreet attempt at flirting from one of my flatmates, perhaps? More probably ancient relics from previous inhabitants someone found and decided to put in with mine at random. Talking of previous inhabitants, you can imagine that we get a lot of mail addressed to people who have long ago moved back home. We have received everything from bank account statements to parish newsletters to letters from the gynaecologist. You might have noticed I'm tired out of my mind.

Thomas is back from Argentina, but he's bed-ridden with some exotic disease he picked up in the wilds of Patagonia (read: the flu). Symptoms are already visible in some of his flatmates, so if you want to pay a visit, do it now before we board down the flat and quarantine it. Anna had a scary accident with the bicycle today - I just don't understand how people have the courage to join the traffic of trams and cars with those things. Petra almost fell asleep at a lecture today, and as for the girls next room, the last I saw of them was in the morning when Maria got out her pots and pans to cook something yellow, and Jana told me I looked tired, as though this was the most unnatural thing at eight in the morning.

As for me, it's not long ago I was driven home from another rehearsal of Duruflé's Requiem in Gleisdorf, where I accompanied for Natasha who once again took control of the remarkably good amateur choir there, hair in its place (some strands flew out of the bun during the very adrenalin-filled third movement). Moving chronologically backwards, I voluntarily went to sing in the huge choir of our university, where the piece worked on was - surprise - Duruflé's Requiem (if you're going to get to know a piece, it's either all or nothing!!). Before that, a desperate attempt at a siesta at home which I gave up after twenty minutes. The first half of the day was spent at lessons for my major subject.

Sometimes I'm really astounded at peoples' behaviour. Yesterday, I was going to kick out someone from a class I had reserved for practising, but she seemed so desperate to stay in it, and I was not so desperate to get into it, so I told her to just stay there and did she say thank you? No, she complained about how shitty the whole reservation system was, how she never got to practise anywhere, and closed the door. Next time I see her I'm going to tell her exactly how ugly I think she is. Okay, so let's just all live in inpenetrable bubbles and mellow in our own mess, I mean who needs friendliness anyway, it's so overrated! All for one and one for one! Every man for himself!

I really should go to bed - just yesterday I was thinking about how nice people have been here, what wonderful people I have met, and how I feel like part of a bigger local community. I guess there are a lot of idiots out there, and who knows, maybe I was one of them for somebody else today. And now my reading lamp broke down! If I don't get a new one it will probably be an excuse for our landlady not to pay us back our 400€. Have I just written one of the most depressing posts ever? Maybe, but in spite of that I am still smiling. Hmm.

April 21, 2007


Wow, it's been a great week! Where to start. Well, first of all, the amazing summer weather here in Styria, das grüne Herz Österreichs, inspired me twice to go out the door, choose a direction, and follow it. Last Sunday, the last day of the easter vacations, I put on my jogging suit (if that's what you can call it) and followed the creek which practically springs from across the street, towards the suburbs of Ragnitz and the high-brow streets across the mansion-dotted Rückerlberg.

Yesterday, the hills were resuscitated when I followed the highway east of the centre and then abruptly swerved north to climb one of the region's many hills. In less than ten minutes, I felt like I was in the countryside: cosy middle-of-nowhere cottages were all the rage here, and not before long I heard cows mooing in the distance - but checking my map I saw I was still very much in Graz indeed. From up there, I could see far over Graz, and just when I spotted the airport, the Austrian 18 o'clock flight from Vienna swerved over the nearest hilltop and I followed its nearly 90-degree turn and approach to the runway.

There's nothing like a touch of hedonism to make a good week, and so this week I also indulged in some shopping - some new summer clothes, some of which came in a sealed bag labelled INTIMISSIMI. And nightlife, of course! Thursday's chor pro musica rehearsal was followed by the traditional visit to the nearest pub. Yesterday's dinner at the Indian restaurant "Hathi" was a lot spicier than last time I ate there, and so our small group headed to the bars to cool off. Practically everywhere was packed, but we finally got a table on one of the terraces of Freiheitsplatz - only to be told it was closing. We got lucky in nearby Buddha-bar (continuing our Asian theme for the evening), which seemed to attract an interestingly mixed crowd and served great (and expensive) cocktails.

Well but after all, the vacations are over and so the studies have also kicked off again. Once again, one of the most fun things is being asked to conduct choir rehearsals for friends. Apart from the above-mentioned cpmg, with which I got to conduct show-stoppers such as Rachmaninoff's "Bogoroditse Devo" and Bruckner's "Christus factus est", Natasha and I made a guest appearance today at Chorforum Gleisdorf, where we got down to business with Duruflé's Requiem (I love the way she always ties her hair together before a rehearsal with a very no-nonsense attitude). Tomorrow, I'll make a 30-minute trip to Frohnleiten, to help out with the rehearsal of the church choir there. Have I mentioned I enjoy what I do?

Here at home, things have been going very smoothly. I must say our kitchen is always very neat and tidy, and this probably owes much to everybody - the other day I left my dirty dishes on the sink, went back ten minutes later to wash up and found them clean. If anyone should come for a visit soon, let me just warn about the slightly disturbing smell coming from our fridge - Jana has been trying out some new cheeses. While Thomas is in Argentina, I have been sharing my fridge-space with Petra, whose sofa is even more chaotic than before as she struggles to meet an assignment deadline. The freshest wave of panic came an hour ago when she realised it includes a presentation with Microsoft Powerpoint, a program she has no idea how to use - Anna promised to help out. I guess this means we're not going to dance at Kulturhauskeller tonight as planned.

All in all, a very satisfactory week - I'm hoping the next one will be just as nice. I've come to think of this town as my home. I hear the names of streets and know in which districts they are. I understand how this place works and know what to do to fit in. I know the people and they know me: I know that if suddenly our landlady decided to renovate this flat and threw us all into the street I'd have at least thirty people to call. I feel like I belong here - then again I felt that the very first time I visited the city's official website - and I know that when I leave, it will not be for good. Nothing ever is, is it?

April 14, 2007

Damascene voices

Yesterday evening, I was welcomed back to Graz by the powerful stench of cowdung at the airport and Austrian folk music blasting out of Radio Steiermark on the bus downtown. Rewind to an hour earlier, when I met Thomas at Vienna airport, starting his long long trip to Ushuaia, Argentina. Yet another hour earlier, I finally summoned the courage to ask my Syrian fellow passengers - a heavily maked-up mother with her daughter who was reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" with a pen in hand to underline unknown words (one of them was "intuitive") - where they were heading, and they turned out to be friends of my mother's aunt. Going back some hours more, our flight's absolutely terrifying purser Sieglinde Bussbaumer welcomed us on her flight "on behalf of the whole crow". Sounds like fun? Travelling is!

Vienna airport: Thomas, Transfer Flatmate C & company head for South America in Iberia's flight 3575 to Madrid.
Damascus in April is nothing like it is in the summer. I never thought I would need two warm blankets there and the raging hailstorms were like something out of science fiction. In general, the city seemed a lot more crowded and hectic than before - probably owing much to the over 1 million Iraqis who have decided to make Syria their new home. The general opinion in Damascus seems to be that this has contributed to a rise in the crime rate (usually very low for a city of this size) as well as prices of apartments shooting through the roof.

Pick your candidate! Election posters on Street Al-Malki.
Lonely Planet's city guides usually feature a "city talk" section about current hot conversation topics. If I were asked to write one on Damascus based on this latest trip, my top three current issues would probably be:
-"How many more refugees can this city take before it turns into New Baghdad?"
-"Plastic surgery: liplifts are all the newest rage! Has your neighbour already had one?"
-"US top politician Nancy Pelosi's visit: what effect do you think it will have on US foreign policy towards Syria?"

My grandparents' traditional "arrival countdown" in full swing.
The main sights and the essential Damascus walks seemed a bit "been there, done that" by now, but still there were new places to see this time as well, even if they were such dubious attractions as the reopened office of Iraqi Airways (absolutely packed, with outdated posters on the walls proclaiming "A trip to Iraq is an unforgettable experience"), the finally finished top-notch Four Seasons hotel (see quote of the day on sidebar) and a new American-style shopping mall in the suburbs of Kafarsuse (eerily empty).

Part of the Damascus skyline: The Four Seasons, with the hideous Damascus tower in the background.

Back here at home, I was greeted by a birthday present from Petra (see picture below), some leftover chocolate cake Thomas and his girlfriend had made and my bed, which was not quite the way I left it after her visit (no comment). This house has had a lot of visitors this month, and yesterday Maria and her visiting brother B were hosting a candlelight balcony party as I arrived. They had big plans to go to Vienna today, but nevertheless I saw them strolling on the street in the late afternoon near the Kunstuni, where I also saw a motorcyclist who had been hit by a tram - at the speed those things swerve into Leonhardstrasse from behind the corner, it's probably no wonder. Everything is very green now here and our garden is flourishing beautifully. I'll now go to see whether the bathroom is free, brush my teeth, and go to bed.