It's a little uncomfortable taking photos in Algiers. Feel like a target.
But I'm sorry I missed photos of the lights that are strung generously across the streets and boulevards.
Apparently, the lights were gifts from Ghadafi, who apparently felt Algiers was bereft of festive evening lighting.
Monday, August 27, 2007
It's a little uncomfortable taking photos in Algiers. Feel like a target.
During my seminar Saturday in Krems, one of the slides I used for front pages was of the Kleine Zeitung, an Austrian newspaper.
The front page news of the day? Pigs escaping on the highway from a transport truck in the wee morning hours.
Not once, but twice (two separate accidents).
Sad to say, they finally made it to their final destination.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Just got back from the Landman Cafe. I brought my mac so I could get some work done for a journalism seminar I'm giving this weekend.
Remi sat in the middle of the floor and Landman tossed her this huge thing--which delighted but also confounded her.
She carried it over to me to see if I could help.
I picked it up and tried to tear off a piece for her. Then realized I was holding a damn pig's ear.
I threw it away and Remi's still pissed at me.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Remi and I went for our walk through the farmers' fields. She was busy hunting mice and lizards, when a bird--a grouse or a pheasant (I couldn't see, it was too quick)--came up out of the corn stalks, squawking, and flew off in loops until it was out of sight.
It scared the crap of out Remi. She started hightailing it in the other direction. Then she stopped and looked at the sky. Then she bolted over to me and sat down. She looked at the sky again and started growling. Low and mean.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
In Algiers, one of the interpreters (not Nadir) was a conservative Muslim woman (again, not Nadir).
She was under the impression that Americans were not allowed to practice religion. That it was against the law.
Jim and I tried hard to tell her otherwise.
My nephew arrived safe and sound, back from Honduras. He was there doing some sort of "humanitarian" work... We'll see what that really is.
In any case, I've been through my share of hurricanes, altho no C5's. It's nice to have Luca out of the path.
And back at home, harrassing his brother and sister.
Monday, August 20, 2007
I dreamt last night that I was driving in Algiers and attempted to cross six lanes of traffic to make a U-turn.
I was really dizzy with the whirring of the car and my stomach was upset from fishtailing everywhere.
I woke up and realized I was dizzy and my stomach was upset.
I have a fever. I don't feel well.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Went for a walk this morning along the opposite side of the Danube with a neighbor. We drove over into Stopfenreuth, only about 3 miles from Hainburg, but there is a small, sandy beach I wanted to introduce Remi to.
Saw this old sign announcing the ferry boat and its costs. The ferry doesn't run anymore, because now there is a bridge. But pre-bridge, there was just an old rubber raft that would carry people back and forth.
Without the raft, you would have to go to Vienna, and then come back down the other side, about a two hour trip. And it took us five minutes.
Remi waits in the neighbor's car, ready for the ride home.
I was waiting for my flight in the Vienna airport at an overcrowded bar/cafe.
A guy sat down at my table and ordered an espresso and a Coke.
Then he lit a cigarette.
"Are you Bosnian?"
I freaked him out by the question. "How did you know?"
"It wasn't the cigarette, or the expresso, or the Coke. But all three together are a dead giveaway."
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
It pays to root through your trash can in Austria... or maybe not. A judge has yet to decide, but this woman found a medieval cross in her garbage can.
When I was a kid, my sister gave me a beautiful cross. It's the strangest thing, but it's this cross that gets bizarrely lost and then comes back, sometimes years later.
It has happened often, but there are two times that stand out.
Once we saw it pop off my necklace in a friend's home (as I was taking off my coat) and we looked everywhere for it, but never found it. The cross turned up in my own house a couple of years later as I was moving.
Another time I was riding with my boyfriend on his motorcycle in Chicago late one night. When I took my helmet off, the cross (which had been turned into an earring) fell out of my ear and we couldn't find it. My bf called the next day to report that he found the cross on the seat of the bike--it had made it all the way across town on the motorcycle without falling off.
I've managed to lose it again, but I have a feeling it will pop up again one day.
The town of Hainburg is the last stop before Slovakia (besides tiny Wolfsthal, but a village so small you could fit it in your pocket doesn't count).
During the Cold War, there were 3,000 Austrian soldiers stationed here to control the border, since the Iron Curtain was hanging right there.
Along the side of the highway was a pathway that had been beaten down by "runners"--mostly Roma trying to make their way across in the dead of night.
Orders to the Slovak and Russian soldiers were to shoot on sight.
That beaten pathway is now a popular bicycle path that stretches along the Danube in both Slovakia and Austria.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I came back from Vienna later than expected, then back from a "hunt" with Remi and the neighbor's dog through what's left of the corn fields (they look for mice), and then on home.
Stepped outside onto the patio in the dark and sat out on the lounge chair with a cranberry juice. The castle lights light up the back part of the yard. Shooting stars lit up the sky, thanks to a meteor shower.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
The license plates on the cars in Bosnia are no longer at all indicative of city or region--they are now completely random and unidentifiable. This is because when they were otherwise, fighting factions would routinely car bomb vehicles they could identify from a specific ethnic region. This continued after the war was over.
I'm working on a Balkan-related piece right now, which has led me to this:
"I have no doubt that if Milosevic's parents had committed suicide before his birth rather than after, I would not be writing a cable about the death of Yugoslavia. Milosevic, more than anyone else, is its gravedigger. Western leaders are no more than witnesses at Yugoslavia's funeral."
--Ambassador Zimmerman, recalled to Washington May 16, 1992.
Zimmerman's urgency about the genocide, along with other low and mid-level staffers, went unacknowledged by the State Department.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
Man, it's so hot out. Wish someone would throw a bucket of water on me.
Oh. Wait. I have to be in Yerevan for that.
On my ONLY day off there, I:
* Slept in
* Got up and drank yet one more foul cup of Nescafe
* Decided the world owed me a real up of coffee
* Went outside in search of a Real Cup of Coffee
* Noted the streets were emptied of, a) men, b) women, c) babushkas [with or without brooms].
* It was Chernobyl quiet
From the right side of the street, stationed under the "Two Lips" shoe store sign, a band of kids stood; one spotted me, broke free from the group, shot out into the middle of the bare street, and lobbed a red, water-filled bucket in my direction.
A chorus of them began shouting "Americano!" and then all the little thugs came out with buckets, heaving water on me.
Um. I was sopping wet. I started blathering at them--something about cell phones, digital cameras and watches probably being ruined. My skinny arms reached out to grab one of 'em but they were slitherly little snakes, and slipped back on over to their HQ at the Two Lips.
Some babushkas came out of their hidey hole and held a conference. The one who drew the short stick came over to me and took me by the arm, despite my protests, and marched me across the street to her apartment.
She kindly prepared some coffee (not Nescafe/definitely strong enough to fuel your car) and ice cream while her daughter explained to me, in impeccable English, that this was a "special holiday."
"It's when the kids throw water on the grown ups. Didn't anyone tell you about today?"
The Special Day of Abuse? Um. No.
She told me it stemmed from an old pagan holiday when people used to throw roses at women as a sign of love, fertility, etc.,
So what happened to the roses?
Then the daughter assured me that "Americano" was not to be taken personally--it only meant that kids would have even MORE fun dousing a foreigner. Yeehee!!
After our coffee and ice cream, her babushka mother walked me back out again, acting like a human shield to protect me... since how many people would douse an old woman with water?
At least three, as it turns out. Two steps from her door we got hit from a balcony above.
She looked up and wagged her finger, and tsked-tsked, but only got shoulder shrugs and smiles from the parents, who watched it all.
We walked on a few more feet. She stopped on the sidewalk, squeezed my hand and just threw her head back and laughed. We stood on the sidewalk, holding hands, drenched, and laughing our butts off, me and my babushka body guard.
A couple of nights later, as I recounted my war story, Aram's girlfriend depicted My Personal Trauma on a paper napkin at the Irish pub.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
On one of the journalism forums I visit, there was a post on cell phone hacking.
Which reminded me:
When I first went to the Republic of Georgia a couple of years ago, I was gonna be there for a few months, so I needed a SIM card for my phone.
One of my all-time favorite people, Vinny, went with me, commandeering the afternoon to make sure I got a tour of the city, including a stop at the cell phone place.
When we got there, I filled out paperwork in triplicate, but found out that the Austrians were one step ahead of us--the phone company had a block on the use of other SIM cards.
Apparently, Austrian laws and restrictions are not a problem in the Republic of Georgia.
The guy helping us walked us over to the window and pointed to a stately corner building across the street. The one that was flying about 40 different flags outside, looking like the United Nations.
"That's it. The one with the flags."
So Vinny and I dodge across the street to Flagville, while I protested the whole time that this "can't be it."
Outside looked like the United Nations, inside was a river of cables blanketing the floors, and two geeks.
"I need a SIM card for my phone, but XX Telekom says it's blocked."
No words were exchanged, the cell phone was taken from my hand, computer keyboards were tapped, and two minutes later my phone was in my hand, along with a new Georgian number.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I had a friend visiting last week and we took a tour of the main synagogue in Vienna. It was built under Franz Josef's regime, which might suggest a religious tolerance. On the other hand, it was built on the condition that it would be disguised behind a facade of private dwellings. It's hard to know if the emperor did this to protect the Jewish faithful, or as a compromise to them.
In any case, the survival of the synagogue is ironic. Partly it was because it was hidden among private dwellings, and to burn the synagogue on Kristallnacht would have meant burning the private, non-Jewish residences surrounding it. And the Austrian Nazi HQ was just a couple of blocks away, so that also would have been at risk.
And, in a the greatest twist of irony, keeping the synagogue was in the best interest of the Nazis, since it held all the records--much better to have the records so as to systemically annihilate, rather than annihilate at random.
All the while the Nazis were in the throes of the Holocaust and busily eliminating more than 12 million human beings from the face of the Earth, Hitler was apparently calming himself with music composed by Russians (considered them subhuman) and Jews (we all know how he felt about them).
Monday, August 06, 2007
An Austrian priest has been fired/ex-communicated/defrocked/sent to Eternal Damnation/pink slipped because he has been having a relationship with a woman and he says it's L.O.V.E.
The people of the town are ticked off, saying it's time to change the ways of the Church and allow priests to marry.
A while back Uncle Billy and I were sitting at the Landman Cafe and he was telling me about the local priest in Hainburg when he was growing up.
"His girlfriend and kids lived the just over in [the village of] Wolfsthal."
Sunday, August 05, 2007
There is a grasshopper in my backyard that flies.
It either flies or hops.
Rather practical when you think about it. If it's a short distance, just hop. Hop on over here.
And for a longer distance, fly. Fly over there.
Why screw with cumbersome walking?
Posted by Patti McCracken at 9:29 PM
Here is my good life:
Eighty-something degrees today, sun high, lying in the back yard on my blanket face-down, and Remi comes up and sits down, pressing her now ample side against my head.
I laugh and kiss her fur, she squirms and readjusts herself a half inch from me.
We doze on the blanket. Vanity Fair mag beside me. I can hear tourists on the castle. I cannot hear my Nazi, pasty-white neighbor boy because he's been gloriously away all week.
I am not in Algeria or Russia or Vietnam or Germany or the Netherlands or Armenia. I'm right here, on solid ground, in my own yard in Hainburg.
Friday, August 03, 2007
A few days before I left for Armenia, I saw my neighbor out walking his dog. We talked a bit and I told him where I was going.
"Yerevan? Really! Did you know that when I was a kid growing up in Slovakia we used to tell 'Radio Yerevan' jokes."
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
"We'd say 'What's playing on Radio Yerevan.' We'd say we heard something on Radio Yerevan. ... A joke."
I had no idea what he was talking about.
So a few weeks later I'm back from Yerevan and sitting in Uncle Billy's* courtyard. Remi is barking at the pony while keeping an eye on the Doberman and my whereabouts, and my guest from Baltimore is still jetlagged and trying to make out exactly where she is and why she's flown here. And then Uncle Billy starts talking to me about Radio Yerevan.
"In Austria we used to make jokes about Radio Yerevan," he said.
So that's two countries: Austria and Slovakia, yammering about Radio Yerevan.
Then I get a comment on this site from Calin, a Romanian, who writes: "Do you know about Radio Yerevan jokes in Romania?"
I found an example on armeniapedia, apparently lifted from Wikipedia (or vice versa: found the same thing on both sites--or maybe it's the same site):
The Armenian Radio was asked: "Is it possible to enjoy life to the fullest in the Soviet Union?"
The Armenian Radio answers: "Yes, if you like crowded trains."
The jokes were allegedly different outside the USSR than inside (inside apparently consisted of mostly sex jokes).
Calin, do tell more.
*Uncle Billy: It's a Wonderful Life
Just awoke from the sleep of victims.
Body felt compelled toward sleep--I would have just as easily slept in the middle of the street if that was all I could find. But I found my sofa before I found the pavement, so I got horizontal on it and began to dream that I was drowsy and constantly either trying to go to sleep or stay awake.
Also dreamed that I was on Connecticut Ave (DC) in the dark and the rain and trying to find my way back to my sister's house (so I could go to sleep).
I felt helpless. Drugged.
Also dreamed that I was in a car with Jim Gandolfini and I tried to rest my sleepy head on his bare arm. He was repulsed and moved away.
So not only was I victimized by sleepiness, I was rejected by Jim Gandolfini.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
On my last night in Yerevan---the one in which I was instructed to hunt down colleagues in the dead of dark night with no street names to go by (I did it!!)--I was told that there was someone waiting to see me who claimed I was responsible for his impending marriage.
I had to get to the cafe to find out who this guy was. Sure was hoping it wasn't an old boyfriend to pop up with the news...the important ones have broken up with me and IMMEDIATELY MARRIED THE NEXT WOMAN THEY SEE.
It wasn't an ex boyfriend or ex anybody. It was a Moldovan guy (at a reporters' conference in Yerevan) who helped my MA journo students get out their online paper three years ago when I was a Knight Fellow in Chisinau. Apparently, he saw the reflective glow of Christina on his computer screen and was hooked.
And as fate would have it, they are getting married on my birthday in October.
So Cheers to the Happy Moldovan couple. And glad it wasn't an ex.
I googled Austrian diversity and the first thing that popped up was Google asking me if I was sure I didn't want "Australian diversity" --Even Google thinks Austrian Diversity is an oxymoron.
Actually, despite its reputation, Austria is very diverse, albeit unwillingly so. It has one of the largest Muslim populations (ratio) in Europe and took in the bulk of Yugoslavian refugees during the Bosnian war.
But this billboard in Hainburg is trying to promote diversity (Wir sind doch alle gleich: We are all the same). The only diversity I see is in this ad is in gender and facial hair.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
I met Aliza (not sure that's how it's spelled) at Yerevan State University and when she introduced herself, I asked her if it was here first time here.
"Oh, no. I'm Armenian." Armenia, via Berkeley, Ca. She's a former editor now doing her MA thesis on Caucasus media.
Aliza's parents (whose own parents presumably fled the 1915 genocide and concentration camps) met in Syria and then, like many diaspora, ended up in the US. Or they met in the US but are both Syrian-born. Can't remember which--it was 102 degrees and my memory melts in that kind of heat.
But here's the fascinating thing to me: For Aliza, being in Yerevan was like a village for her--despite that she was born in the US and has no living relatives in Armenia at all. Nonetheless, it seems like family for her among the diaspora that also visit.
I sat with Aliza at the ex-pat bookstore one afternoon and watched as she greeted and chatted--in Armenian--with a good 60 percent of the people that came and went.