A chronicle of the whimsical jaunts of this guy as he goes around some foreign places looking for food.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back in Time: Back Home

It was a sunny Monday afternoon, and all the clocks were striking 13. Whoops, I think I have to switch my clock back to 'Western Hemisphere' time. Also, time to substitute commas for periods and periods for commas. The adjustment seems strange, and very dream-like in a way. Matt (The Rev) made an interesting hypothesis: the funny feeling you get coming back and experiencing familiar surroundings is the difference in your brain recalling short-term memory and long-term memory. Strangely familiar would be the word I would use to describe it. I keep waking up in the morning and find myself on the verge of panic because it feels so strange to be in a 'familiar' place, so much so that the familiar becomes unfamiliar. I have, for the most part, resumed life in L.A. and jumped back into the thick again.

Near the end of my experience, I definately began to feel a kind of homesick; one that made me regretful that I could not endure more travelling, but also yearning for familiarity to establish a sense of conclusion. The kind of ubiquitous anxiety about finding your train, place to sleep, or even proper directions keeps you on the edge, as well as motivated to keep going. My sabbatical in Austria relaxed those tendencies to a certain extent, but I had my last little nip of travel when I left Austria for the last two days of my journey.

From Salzburg (a city I had seen last year, and did not have the desire to see again) I took the train into Munich; it was my last cross-border train ride of the trip. I was fortunate to find people to host me for my last few days in Munich. Their names were Andrea and Klaus von Saucken. I met Andrea in Austria and, in keeping with the spirit of hospitality of that experience, she invited me to come stay with her for my last night. Andrea is a retired school teacher and Klaus is a classical choralist. Always with the interesting folk, I seem to be.

They live in Solln, a small, sleep suburb south of Munich. They were fantastically helpful. I must admit, I was quite worn out on running around, so I spent a good deal of time reading in their basement guest room or tending to their 18 year old cat Ulysses. Despite Klaus' mild deficiency with English, I was able to have very long conversations with them, with the help of Andrea's very capable grasp of the language. They were very content and joyful in their lives. Their two children were already grown, with one grandchild. They didn't seem to have many complaints and were tirelessly committed to making my last day comfortable. I wish I could say I was tireless about anything at that moment.

The return journey consisted to leaving Andrea and Klaus' at 10:30 PM, sleeping in the Terminal at the airport until 5 and getting on a plane to Heathrow at 6:30 in the morning. Then at Heathrow, where just days before a few thousand passengers had been straded after a strike by the catering union, I borded an 11 hour flight back to the States. Unfortunately, with the strike still happening there was no food on the plane; a problem to say the least. No matter how many times you serve water, tea and coffee, the void is not filled. It was most certainly not the worst plane experience I've had, but I breathed an enormous sigh of relief as we hit the ground in L.A. and I saw the bright, bleaching sun reflect off of the tarmac.

After the anxiety and deprivation of the flight, I went straight to El Tarasco for a burrito and tall glass of beer. It was a wonderful way to end the experience.

I certainly feel some pressure to produce photographic evidence of this grand trip of mine. All I can say is, in due time. Most of the memorabilia will come in other forms, as I did not take many pictures as the whole picture-taking scene left me a bit put off. I felt like I needed to experience it with my eyes and not through the murky wash of an LCD screen.

Well, from here, I'll sign off. If you want to know a few more stories, ask me sometime.

Capt. Casey Doran
Merchant Navy
H.M.S. Artichoke-Heart

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Keep on keeping on

Safe in Austria now. Prague moved by quickly. It seems four nights is about the upper limit to be staying in a big city without supplemental activities. Touristing gets redundant and boring after a half dozen European cities.

After a brief night in Vienna, I arrived in Austria with the intent of shaking off some of the anxiety that so much moving around leaves you. I'm staying in an old German summer home in the small town of Ebensee. The house sits halfway up a hill along a street called Mendelssohnstrasse (strasse meaning 'street'). The street is named after a significant figure in German Jewish Intellectual History: Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was a philsopher and scholar who focused on the 'Immortality of the Soul' and sought to bring modern enlightenment philosophy to Judaic studies. He was a formidable thinker in Kabbalic and secular circles alike.

The history of the house is a bit fuzzy as the house was apparently constructed (originally) by a descendent of Moses, Felix. All that I've learned is that the great-grandfather of the current owners bought it in the Twenties. Since then it has remained in the hands of the same family. Benji, my friend from LMU, his older brother Nathaniel and his mother and father, Barbara and John Theim, try to maintain the old tradition of the Austrian summer home by hosting a managerie of guests every summer. All in all, at least a majority of the Thiem family spend around 3 months out of the year here. From my estimates as many as 18 (maybe 20) people could stay here... that is if couches and inflatable mattresses are utilized.

The house sees quite a few "regulars" who stay here every year (or nearly every year). Some of the notable guests are Claudia: who is Nathaniel's (or Nat as he's more commonly referred to) wife, James: a Britain-born pensioner from the Island of Gurnsey, Omi: Benji's German grandmother, and the Rainers: a family of 6 (4 small children) who enjoy the whole gambit of outdoor activities. These are just a tiny sample of the guests here, while there are, I would imagine, a half dozen more I may have missed last year and this one as well.

Breakfasts and dinners are taken collectively. While the responsibility for the preparation of the meals usually falls on Barbara's (capable) shoulders, the clean-up is exclusively the job of the guests. The dishwashing duty usually rotates, but the order is informal and uncategorizable. For instance, I've washed dishes (or at least helped put dishes away) at least once every day. The family looks down on those stingy guests who outright refuse to chip in with the clean up. I, for one, try in every instance to offer a helping hand so as not to wear out my welcome.

One of the particularly delightful occurances is the evening music. Every few days the talented Thiem family, and whatever chance guests happen to be staying, serenade us lucky visitors with some classical music. It's always delightful, even though the musicians may be out of practice sometimes.

This area of Austria is Salzkammergut (which roughly translates to 'Good Salt Halls') known for it's ancient salt mines, lush green hills, steep mountains and countless lakes. For this reason, it's a popular vacation spot for Germans, and all others. Hang gliders, wind surfers, hikers and rock climbers are all over. It is not uncommon to see more than a few middle-aged, barrel-chested Germans barely managing themselves into those stylish European speedos. All in all, it's a lively place to relax in. I've already tried my hand at rock climbing (at which I was unable to complete a full ascent) and a good, but brief, hike. I'll probably be out again in a day or so, if the weather improves and if the callouses on my feets show signs of subsiding.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But, I believe a few local musicians may be visiting on Thursday night.

I will return to my novel, something lofty by Gore Vidal, and hope to find a clearer sky tomorrow morning.