Sunday, November 30, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Remi and I are setting off on a road trip soon. Final destination: Munich. But ambling along to get there.
Before I go, I wanted to leave you with an annual re-telling of the famous Algerian Thanksgiving story.
I'm in the back seat heading downtown while Nadir (interpreter) is in the front seat discussing with the driver details about the turkey. Jim and Shari are having Thanksgiving at their place and have given the driver the task of getting a turkey.
Jim said he wanted a big one ("and dead and plucked--you have to be specific here"), so the driver is explaining to Nadir that he got a sort of big one, and thinks it should be enough.
Nadir turns to me: "It's 20 kilos. Do you think that will be okay?"
20 kilos, 20 kilos. Sounds like a lot. I start to calculate. Let's see, 1 kilo is slightly more than 2 pounds, so that's.... that's....
..."What?!?!?! You're buying a 45 POUND turkey? Is that even possible?"
Yea, sure, I hear from both in the front seat. No sweat.
"Forty five pounds. Forty. Five. Pounds. In one turkey?"
Yes, this is nothing, Patricia. We eat this all the time. You know, especially after Ramadan when we are very hungry from fasting.
I ask Nadir if we are talking about the same animal.
"Are you sure this isn't an emu?
Or an ostrich?
Or a sheep? " I say.
Nadir starts to laugh while I get on the phone to my sister in England.
"Hi Joellyn. It's me. Have you ever heard of a 45 pound turkey?"
While Jo is huh-ing and what-ing, and expanding her brain to fit the cartoonish idea of a turkey the weight of her 9-year-old kid, I lose the connection.
Having stunned England, I call Jim.
"Hey Jim, it's me. Nadir and the driver are talking about the turkey. They are saying it's 45 pounds."
Jim yelps "WHAT?!?!?!" so loudly they can hear it in the front seat.
While Jim and I discuss the possibility of cutting the turkey in half so that we'll have half a bird at 22 pounds, the driver jokes that Jim could put the turkey in the washing machine and shrink it.
In the front seat, they start miming about shoving an obese bird into a small oven, while Jim and I ponder the mechanics of how one would go about stuffing half a turkey.
Shari, meanwhile, remains unaware of the giant, jurassic beast which is about to enter her kitchen. I imagine it arriving on a Harley, leathered and tattooed all around, with a marlboro hanging out of it's giant beak.
We want to save Shari from this horror.
"Nadir, tell the driver that we don't want a big bird, we only want a small one. Something around 10-12 kilos."
The driver is skeptical that he can get one that small.
He calls a few hours later and says he can get a 10-kilo bird (about 22 pounds), but that it'll have to be delivered in the morning, as it is still unaware of the fate that awaits it, and the duty will not be performed until this evening. Plus, the farmer is in the countryside, and it takes awhile to get it into Algiers.
But this won't do because of the timing (needs to go in the oven pre-dawn).
So it just may be, that when we sit down to our Thanksgiving feast, the silence of thanks will be shattered by the sound of the table cracking with the strain of the heavyweight centerpiece.
TURKEY SAGA, PART II
Back in his hometown, Nadir was regaling all of his friends with tales of the American lady chasing after him in Algiers, asking about obese turkeys.
A friend chimed in, joking about the bird, suggesting it wasn't a turkey after all, but an ostrich. That being said, his English vocabulary failed him, and "ostrich" unwittingly became "hostage."
So while my evening ended with the delivery to friends of a 45-pound, partially-plucked turkey, Nadir's friend was going on and on about Americans accidentally ordering "hostages" to eat for dinner.
"Yea, they probably ordered a hostage, and didn't know it. I'm surprised it even fit in the baker's oven!"
Nadir reports that even after three days, his sides still hurt from laughing.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Had my little car winterized, in prep for an upcoming road trip.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 8:40 PM
Sunday, November 23, 2008
When I was in Chisinau, Moldova, a met a German woman who was ambling through, more or less on her way back from Russia. Actually, Siberia.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
They look like little dots here (blame an old cell phone camera), but guide your eyes to the second floor balcony of the building.
It's not every day that a family of inflatable penguins stands on a balcony in downtown Vienna.
I was tempted to join them. But I would have felt out of place.
First of all, I'm not inflatable, although there have been some men who wished I was.
Second, I'm not a penguin.
Friday, November 21, 2008
I stopped in this morning at the Naglreiter for a topfen kolatsche--a type of cheese pastry.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It's been four weeks since Remi's knee surgery and the recovery is very slow.
Under Austrian law, when you register to live in a city or town, you have to check a little box to state whether or not you're Catholic.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Went to a Heurigen last night with some friends. It was loud, loud, loud, loud, loud. So loud we couldn't believe it.
And then the singing started. It jumped from table to table, like leaping flames.
We couldn't figure out where everyone came from, why there were so many people (mostly men) in this normally sleepy little town, so we decided that they were most likely hunters.
As it turns out, it was a priest and some of his flock who had hired a bus and were making an evening of it, after a solemn day at the grotto. Only in Austria.
Anyhow, if any of them had hopes of landing on Austria's version of American Idol, they can forget it.
Friday, November 14, 2008
It was my first trip to Bucharest, back in 1995, and I had been there for four days with no work. Just me alone, padding around my crumbling bloc apartment, waiting for the journalism center (where I was assigned) to call with a work schedule.
The phone rang. THE PHONE RANG. At first I thought it was the door. I went running to the door, the one with about 27 bolts on it.
Then I realized I didn't have a working doorbell. Then I thought it was the alarm and began to worry about unlocking 27 bolts in a hurry.
But of course it wasn't an alarm because if there's no working doorbell, why would there be a working alarm?
For chrissakes, the elevator had been sticking between the 1st and 2nd floor since Day 2. Nothing was working.
Except the telephone. It was the telephone ringing. Radu from the journalism center was on the line.
"Patricia. We have a schedule for you."
"Oh great, Radu, should I come in to discuss it, or..."
"No time for that," said Radu. "We have an editor coming from Sibiel and he wants to take you back to his newspaper."
"Immediately. We will send a driver to pick you up to meet the editor here at the office."
"Where is Sibiel?"
"It is in Romania."
"Yes, I understand that, but how far from Bucharest?"
Apparently, I was asking too many questions Radu just didn't have time for. He hung up.
I packed a little backpack of clothes and went down to meet the driver.
Having forgotten about the broken elevator, I climbed aboard. It brought me all the way to halfway between the 2nd and first floors, with the doors flung open. Sort of.
I was contemplating the situation, which meant muttering to myself, when I heard someone yell at me in English to hurry up and jump out.
"No," I said.
No, I said again, more firmly, more boldly. As in, No, I will not shimmy out of a half-open, erratically operating elevator closet and then free fall a couple of yards.
"Just jump. Are you the American? Americans are afraid of jumping but we Romanians do it all the time. So just jump!"
"How did you know I was American?" I shouted.
"Because Radu told me to meet you here. I'm your driver."
Never one to keep a driver waiting, I tossed my bag to him and then tossed myself to him.
Near the J. Center Ioan the Editor From Sibiel was anxiously waiting for me. I went from the driver's car to Ioan's white van, where his wife and 5 y.o. daughter hovered in the semi-darkness of the back. I didn't even have time to check to see that this really was Ioan from Sibiel, and not someone out to collect a ransom (albeit a small one--I'm not worth much on the open market).
But it was Ioan. After a couple of hours on the road--and after waiting for Ioan as he bathed himself at roadside drinking fountains and toot toot tooted his horn at anything with a heartbeat, I asked how long it would take to get there.
"Ohhh, I'd say about 10 hours. Normally, it takes about 4, but I don't like the main roads. I stay off of them." I looked back at his wife and kid, still huddled in the back seat. It wasn't shyness that kept them from speaking. It was surrender.
We passed village after village with water buffalo, and Ioan, being an equal opportunity tooter, went heavy on the horn for them, too. But water buffalo are unimpressed by editors in white vans, so they just continued to swagger across the roadway, unhurried.
An ancient lady passed in front of us and Ioan toot-tooted, but like the water buffalo, she was equally unimpressed. As she hobbled past the front of the van, Ioan pointed out that she was the 104 y.o. gypsy queen of note in the region. And it was clear that a fountain bathing horn-blaster with foreigners aboard his train was nothing but a big yawn for her.
And then we passed the big birds. Ioan toot tooted to alert me to their nests, which were ginormous, and such a thing I'd never seen.
"What kind of bird nests there?" I asked.
I'm sorry? I don't understand," I said.
"XDIFURRGQPLIU!!!" screamed Ioan.
Ioan gave it one last try. "I don't know what it is in English, but for us it is a bird that brings good luck and bebbies to women!!!!!"
Oh. Right. A Stork.
Not Sibiel, Romania. This is Rust, Austria, which is also home to birds that bring good luck and bebbies to women. And leave chimneys out of commission, to boot.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The video below shows a stark difference from the bustling summertime Rust, where tourists flock to see the nesting storks. This is Rust on a foggy autumn day (with admittedly poor color quality, sorry) during the Mittag Pause, when Austrians shutter their shops and head home for lunch and a nap before opening back up again.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Some Czech friends were asking me about Joe Biden. Said their news coverage had been a lot about McCain and Palin (they knew everything about her that I know), but they said they've heard nothing about Biden.
Posted by Patti McCracken at 2:07 PM
Friday, November 07, 2008
As far as I can tell, Obama has strong support in Austria. And as far as the media goes, the newspapers I've seen grandly praised America's choice, albeit I've only been reading headlines.
But there's at least one pundit here who made Italian PM Berlusconi's "tan" remark seem tame.
Here is an excerpt from an Austrian Times report:
A respected Austrian journalist has caused outrage for racist remarks about new US President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president.
Furious callers have criticised 80-year-old Klaus Emmerich, former chief editor and US correspondent at national broadcaster ORF. He has been a journalist for 61 years.
In a live TV discussion about the US election result, the retired journalist said: "I do not want the Western world directed by a black man. And, if you say that is a racist remark, I say you are damn right."
Here's some (not) news: People are complaining about Wii-related injuries.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Stereotypically, Austrians tend to err on the side of cynicism, so maybe this is their instinct pushing through. But many friends have expressed grave concern over Obama's safety. As in "Congratulations, but something sinister could happen."
Posted by Patti McCracken at 12:38 PM
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
In fact, what they do here is, they round up the germs, put 'em in a packet, and then sell 'em back to you.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
This morning while my neighbor Harald was helping me with my car battery (it was dead), I was regaling him with American Halloween stories, including one about Edgar Alan Poe (who is also dead).
"Poe is buried in Baltimore, and each Halloween, some mystery fan leaves a bottle of whiskey at his gravesite. No one has been able to figure out who it is."
"Maybe," said Harald, "It's Mr. Jack Daniels himself."
Jack Daniels may be visiting Poe, but he never visited Dracula's house.
I did. I went to Dracula's Castle in Transylvania a few years back. No coffins rolling about--nothing to bring Scooby Doo out for a gander. Just a coffinless, webless, ghostless castle.