Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Cross Cultural Experience

I've been to Europe many times, but each time, I'm reminded that cross-cultural experiences never end, even when you "know" the place you're going.  Yesterday we drove to Hallstatt, a pretty town, not too far from Salzburg, but not terribly close either.  Its in the lake district and so we knew we'd have to drive on mountain roads and that it would a while to get there.  We got to drive through a lot of small, charming villages and towns on the way.  We got to drive right through these many towns, not around them, not on an ugly bypass or on the gas station/fast food drag, but straight through the middle of the town center, at 2 miles an hour.  This is charming, and a welcome reminder that roads, towns and villages are organized differently here.  And also that the pace of life here is different.  But, wow, we could have gotten there a lot faster on a highway!

We were invited to brunch today at Brooke's house.  Brooke and her family are from Michigan and have lived here two years.  We got put in touch with her via someone who works at Teo and Mara's new school.  I, like any good invited guest, asked what I could bring.  Fruit salad.  Awesome.  But only if you remember that the grocery store is not going to be stocked particularly well, the fruit may not be ripe, and, of course, that you aren't going to get a second chance at another store in the morning because the stores are closed Sundays. 

Teo and I had a long discussion about how nice it was that everyone had the same day to relax as everyone else….  We brought orange juice and champagne. 

Why do I happen to have champagne you might ask.  Leftovers from the 50th anniversary.  We had about 27 bottles left over, and we are slowly, quite slowly, working our way through them!  I think we're down to 24.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


My turn for authorship - first timer, here.
Another day littered with great moments and, well, others. Teo and Mara went to bed last night having decided that today would be Mother’s Day, and that Kim should sleep while the three of us went running. A fine plan. We woke up, they had a bite to eat, I made some unreasonably strong coffee, and we were good to go. Until Teo went for a pre-run pit stop (like a good runner), and then biffed it on the stairs between floors on the way back down. He says he did two cartwheels before skidding on his back. I can’t confirm the cartwheels, but his back is pretty scraped up, he’ll have a shiner tomorrow on the left side of his face, and a bump on his knee. Throughout the course of the day, as the kids continued to not understand why we are careful on stairs, tempers flared repeatedly. Even mine, which is saying something.

Once the physical and emotional recoveries were underway, we went with Kasia to Wolfgangsee – a lake town about 45 minutes from here (if you can find your way out of Salzburg on the first try, which was not our experience this morning….). Still, we go there, we had a nice lunch, we strolled, watched para-gliders from the mountains above, Teo bought an Austria cap (not an Österreich cap, which tells you something about the audience and the price), we went for two swims (one free, one not), had some ice cream, and played in a playground. A grand time, topped off by an Austrian wedding parade down the streets of town. Teo and Mara marched along with them. Silliness and such. 

Since getting home, there have been four more discussions about being careful, preceded by four not-careful incidents. This is getting tiring. I thought they were supposed to learn from their experiences. Is that not true? Kasia made a great quinoa/broccoli/tomato dinner, we had a nice iChat with the Coles clan in California, and now, at last, the kids are asleep. I’m guessing Kim and I will be out within five minutes of posting. Tomorrow: a percussion concert with some of the Montessori parents and kids here. And another early-morning attempt at a run with the kids. Here’s hoping we get out the door this time!

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Montessori Moment

We visited the kids school today, where they'll be attending come September. Mara dove right into the outdoor equipment and Teo -- who had been telling us he was nervous on the walk to the school -- was clingy and eventually warmed up. Once they were inside, they looked around. Mara came back quickly and said that Montessori School (in Redlands) had the same tower (pink). Now, I didn't know she'd ever done it at MIR, but apparently she had. We got out a mat, she set it up horizontally and then vertically, and she asked me, and then the teachers, where the cards were. The cards that go with the tower. She wanted to do ALL of that work!
(picture not her's)
She then proceeded to knock the tower over, but regardless, the teachers were very impressed with them/Mara. All I could think was, if they're impressed with Mara's work habits, they'll be over the moon with Teo.

They also have a work room -- awls, saws, hammers. Teo is very excited. Naturally, by the time the visit was over (an hour), they did not want to go home and we had to pull them away in tears and tantrums.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pictures, unedited.

First Impressions (on Google's Picasa site)

Week One

We’ve been here one week now. Phew. Its been a whirlwind. We arrived in time for the 50th anniversary festivities. So, that’s been fun, but it has also meant that we are sharing “our” castle and trying to settle into routines that we can manage and that the kids are comfortable in, while schmoozing with Trustees of the university, alumni who pop in and out, and 12 other people who are also living in the castle during the festivities! It has also meant that we’ve been up until midnight each of the last three night, and then we get up at 545am to do German homework.

We began German lessons on Monday. Ich bin Kimberley Coles. Ich heisse Kimberley Coles. Meine name est Kimberley Coles. Ich komme aus Californien. Blah Blah. But its fun, and the other students are fun. There are four of us now: Steve and I, Inguna from Latvia and Aneska from Slovakia. Karen from Los Angeles was also in class, but she was bumped up to a more advance level. We had a small world moment with her… do you speak English? Yes, I’m from the US. Oh, us too. Where? LA. Oh, us too, we’re outside of LA in a small town … called Redlands. She looks at us funny and says, I went to Redlands as an undergrad. We look at her as if she’s a stalker. And so it went, and then we invited her to some of the 50th anniversary activities!

Mara and Teo are becoming more comfortable in the building, and Mara has taken to costume play each day around 5pm. This involves going up and down the stairs in various states of undress as she moves through various costumes, past everyone and anyone milling about in the house as they make their dinner plans. I, on the other hand, am getting tired of the building all ready. Although, I think its really that I’m tired of bunkbeds, of working on a table that’s 2ft square, and of having a room on the 3rd floor, a (partial) kitchen on the ground floor, and living/common space on the 4the floor, and a washingmachine in the basement! We are anxiously awaiting our ability to move into the Director’s flat (which will happen the first week of August). Then, we will live on the 1st floor. Period. We will work on the other floors of course. I guess I don’t want to move into a brownstone when we return.
The kids are getting to be good walkers though, according to Kasia. They went out today and yesterday down the hill. Teo reports that he walked for 2 ½ hours all by himself. They’ve been walking down the hill and finding new trails. Steve and I walk to the Modern Art museum and take the elevator down to the Old Town, which is where our language lessons are. Without problem we managed to get a monthly residence elevator pass, 10 euro! Things are more expensive here. However, we assume they’ll be cheaper once we get out of the Old Town. We explored the dark side of the Monchsberg two days ago, and found an asian market where we promptly bought garam masala and tandoori, and then a Turkish market when we got corn masa. Here come the tortillas!

The last highlight from Week One has been the recognition (in a sort of In Your Face way) that Salz means Salt. Everyone is so bloated that not a single woman in the house seems to be able to get their rings off, and one, Debbie, has been pressing kiwi fruit on us. She heard it sucked up the salt. Lots of salt in everything. Absolutely everything. We might be having some words with the chef soon (the new chef-to-be who is currently the souse-chef).

Metro only takes Bankomat

And it helps if you bring your membership card and you know some German. Metro is a mega store – Costco like. Not really Costco like if you’re a Costco fan, but it does certainly have bulk items (as well as non-bulk) and you must be a member. Perhaps it’s more like a super Walmart? Of course, being who I am… I haven’t been in the SWM.

Kasia and I took the car! It took some doing as we had to actively search for the keys. One of the small, eensy weensy problems about arriving for the 50th anniversary alumni celebrations is that we aren’t receiving a lot (any) information about the house or how to manage our new jobs. Much of that will come in August when we have a “transition” time scheduled, but for now I still need to know where the car keys are (new car – only 130km on it!), when trash day is, be given some house keys, get access to the bank accounts, etc.! We’ve been hanging back for most of the week, but Jim and Eva go on holiday right after the celebrations end, so we’re moving into active mode. This included searching rooms for small keys. Found it! Off we went, with Steve’s cry of – don’t scratch the car” in the background. Don’t forget we live on the top of a large hill with small windy roads and the drivers are European.

We got to Metro without problem, although we didn’t go the way … we planned it with the map. However, they wouldn’t let us in. No membership card. Alas, I had seen a metro card near the car key, but I had thought it was like a special debit card or something. So… back to the house via a different way, also not the map way. Through tunnels, old towns. 20 minutes. Got membership card. Back. Shopped to hearts content, a bit more. It takes a long time to shop in a foreign place. You have to figure out what everything is, you wonder why you can’t find the items you desire, etc., etc. We get to the checkout. Can’t pay because we don’t have Bankomat card. Can’t communicate effectively. Big sighs and hand gestures from everyone. End result: we get in our car, find bank. But, the problems don’t end. Although it was easy to get money from the ATM, we couldn’t get out of the parkinglot. You need a token for the gate to get OUT, but everyone gets IN without token. Where do you get a token? From the florist who you turn to in despair, and who takes pity on you ad gives you the needed token. Then back to Metro, back to our groceries, and back to the cashier. The good part of the story is that I am getting much more familiar with the streets between my home and Metro.