Reading in Public

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Does anyone know why we go to cafés to read? Reading is arguably a private affair; one that requires concentration and a fair amount of time. Unless you have a soap-box from which to megaphone your manifesto, reading in public is generally a quiet pastime and some might even say, an anti-social one. In Vienna, a city dedicated to the art of whiling away hours of your life drinking beverages, reading in public is no new trend. In Alt Wiener-style establishments, regulars are brought their coffee and their favourite newspaper bound between two wooden splints. Public private reading is not just accepted in these ornate coffee-houses, it is encouraged. Have a cuppa, sit a while and read in peace.

In many modern cafés you will find that newspapers have been replaced by magazines and tabloids. The truly on-trend café however, not only upgrades you from smut to classic literature but offers you the option of buying the reading material you see. Café Phil is one such trendy hipster locale. You are invited into their exposed concrete space to sit as long as you like, drink ‘homemade’ beverages (100% fairtrade, of course) and gaze at their rows of contemporary and classic tomes every time you look up from your Macbook. You can buy some of the motley artistically random collection of furniture and furnishings just in case you felt the need to reconstruct a perfect reading area. What you can’t recreate at home is the quiet hum of conversation of other ‘organic’ people and background music that isn’t distracting because you don’t know the artists.

This schizophrenic place jumps from café to bar to counselling centre to bookshop to restaurant to chair village to retro-ville in a matter of seconds. I love sipping my way through a good book but I’m not sure I could in such a self-conscious manner. Reading to me, is absorbing another’s words, engrossing yourself in a written world to make you completely unaware of your surroundings. When I entered this carefully curated area I felt an instant urge to resist the indie being stamped on me but I soon found myself thumbing through books that looked cool enough to read in public and even ended up researching retro-bikes on my way home. Reading in public can do that to you.

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Long Island Iced Tea

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When I decided on this thing called marriage I knew I had to make some pretty incredible promises. I promised the love of my life that I would above all, prioritise our relationship. I would always work hard at keeping ‘us’. My promises mean that I make time for us even when there are a million other things that I just have to do. I love having many things on the go at the same time so carving out special time for just the two of us can be tricky. A life-lesson I choose to learn everyday. I have to give my full attention to the one I made my promises to and re-discover why I made them! It is easy to roll off a few tender sounding goodbye phrases without thinking but when I realise that they were the only interaction we had all week, some alarm bells start ringing.

My husband has an amazing ability to slow down and give me a hug whatever is going on and I sometimes wish I was quicker at giving and receiving love when I’m in the middle of something. Truth is, I’m always going to be in the middle of something. I need to choose. I need to prioritise. My laundry, lesson-planning, hosting, baking and other things can fit around what’s really important. In an effort to get my mind to leave what my hands have left behind, I have to ask questions. I get my mind to focus on our conversation rather than the task I busied myself with earlier. This tests my promises more than anything I had ever anticipated.

We spent a Saturday strolling along the long island in the middle of the Danube, baking slowly in the sun as we watched various groups of people enjoying time out together. We spoke very little for the first part of our 5 mile walk because we had some quarrel so unimportant I cannot even remember what it was about. As we marched through our conflicted feelings, drinking our iced teas to avoid snapping, we both reached the end of our stubborn resistance and through gritted teeth conceded that we loved each other. That gave way to remembering the promises we had made. This softened us to the point of wanting to understand each other, asking questions without being distracted by the activity or beauty around us, to become interested in the answers. We decided to be interested in ‘us’.

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Fruit in my wardrobe

ImageOne of the best things about summer in Austria is the abundance of yummy fruit. Melons, kiwi-fruit, berries and my new favourite, saturn peaches. As the seasons change, I enjoy picking fruit that mirrors the weather and my mood. The bright citrus colours in summer fruit stalls inevitably make their way into my wardrobe because someone informs the fashion gods about the amazingness of neon. There has never been a colour trend I’ve enjoyed more than this. Small doses are key however, as I am not a teenager, impossibly cool or of small proportions. Like happiness, just a little goes a long way. 

To avoid looking like a bumble-bee, traffic-cone or police-car, I team my vibrant wardrobe choices with muted earthy tones or white. A pair of white jeans (I found for all of €1 in a fleamarket and then bleached) were a step up from my usual khaki shorts and helped me wear my citrus to work without shocking anyone. I am happy to report that fruity tones are now accepted in some of the most conservative working environments known to man.

Take the often misunderstood kiwi-fruit, for example. Wearable? Oh yes. This hairy fruit with a hidden brilliance was my inspiration when choosing a dress for a wedding. I skipped on the hairiness and angled for the simple sophistication of the intense clover-green. This couldn’t have been more fitting for a celebration in Ireland.  As someone who owns too many black clothes, I would never have imagined saying that done right, bright colours have a way of making anything special. Playfully chic.

Some might argue that crazy neons just don’t work with their skin-tone or personality or some other unique thing so here’s a solution, pick a different fruit! Switch red for peach and white for cream like a saturn peach does and watch the delectable outfit unfold. If you’re not sure how bright you can go, look at the humble plum. Deep blue-violet-grey on the outside and muted brown-red-yellow on the inside, what’s not to love! Keep it simple, accessorise with delicious colours to warm up and you’ll be well on your way to getting some fruit in your wardrobe.

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How to Lose Cells and Alienate People

 Warning: Proceed with caution. Contents may be disturbing.

There are few things which truly gross me out.  In fact, the more gruesome something promises to be, the more intrigued I am by it. Think about why one side of a motorway gets clogged when an accident happens on the other. We slow down to look, wondering just how bad it really was. When a friend invited me to a private English tour of Vienna’s pathological museum, this feeling of extreme curiosity took over and I had to take a look.

Walking towards the museum tower through the grounds of the old general hospital, I thought about the times I snuck into the medical school at university hiding my hulking anthology of English Literature or some other non-scientific book in my coat. The foyer had two elephant skeletons which ushered you in to view an incredible selection of both human and non-human specimens preserved to further our understanding of the life on earth. Edinburgh had more impressive galleries dedicated to pathological and anatomical wonders but it was always the quiet halls of the medical college that allowed me to walk from one display to another, wondering away to my heart’s content with no one interrupting to tell me it was closing time.

My experience in Vienna’s Narrenturm was quite different and more disturbing. The tower was designed for people with mental conditions that were not understood in the 18th century,  two patients per windowless cell. After they were moved to friendlier surroundings in the countryside, this unusual prison-like facility housed a growing collection of medical specimens. Rooms were filled with glass jars of varying sizes around a theme. The Lung Room, for example, showed me how different life was for city and country dwellers. Miners, smokers, carpenters and factory-workers all had signs of their environment marked on their bodies.

These glass jars have in some way influenced my quality of life. The medical care we enjoy in Austria today is such a world away from that suffered by people without something as basic as sanitation a mere century ago. I saw wax-casts of dermatological conditions we simply do not see anymore because symptoms are detected early, preventative measures are taken and people are followed-up. I also saw some examples of alienesque mutations caused by damaged DNA sequences and was reminded of the horrors faced by people exposed to nuclear-radiation in my own lifetime. I am thankful for people who found a way to put mercury in thermometers safely so I can take my own temperature, for people who risked exposure to radioactive elements so I can have an X-ray and for all the people who dared to look, investigate and record so I can choose to look away today.

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A Train By Any Other Name

I recently had the privilege of going to the National Railway Museum in York. As you can probably tell, our family holiday featured several ‘family-friendly’ events. I had a great time reading unnecessary details about various engines and routes,  sharing a marvel much like you would when standing at the top of Niagara Falls. I felt no shame. I can geek out with family. That is the best thing about travelling with people who have changed my nappies, answered my silliest questions, taken me to the doctor for embarrassing problems and who have witnessed the best and worst moments of my life.

I entered the museum, counting the number of anoraks I could see. The number of little children almost equalled the number of older gentlemen. The kind I am certain stand in a huddle at the end of platforms, looking seriously at approaching trains and scribbling in their notebooks. This was exactly what I expected. A museum for enthusiasts and children, mostly boys. Having a healthy dose of skepticism is a good way to set yourself up for a museum or film. If you have low expectations, you can be pleasantly surprised when they are surpassed. If they are truly rubbish, then you don’t come away disappointed. Win win.

This museum far surpassed my expectations. I discovered a love for huge hunks of metal that cart us across land, through mountains, across rivers and under seas. It was incredible to see how much the railways have affected the development of Britain. It’s like the internet but with iron. My favourite part was the names given to different trains and I’m not talking Thomas the Tank Engine. It was remarkable that each train lived up to its name both in appearance and journey-history. If you’re a seasoned train-geek you might hear a railway story and say, “Ah, that sounds like something Valour would do.” A train by any other name just would not be the same.

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