Tag Archives: Being tourists in our own town

Colour, Me Happy

Colour makes me happy. I normally walk around serious streets that blend into each other with their neutral shades of stone, cement and brick. Whenever a bright colour pops out at me, I can’t help but smile. I become as happy as a child with a box of crayons except I don’t feel the urge to colour everything in my path with waxy abandon. Learning how to colour within the lines was a challenge for a girl who wanted to spread the happiness off the page, onto the floor and and as high up walls as she could reach. Over time, this childish obsession with vibrant, life-affirming colour seeped into my wardrobe, home and of course, my stationery drawer. Every time I take out my set of 10 Staedtler pens in a class, my (adult) students chuckle but they have now learnt that using colour makes anything more fun. And fun, my friends, makes things easy-to-remember.

I remember most things that are in colour but if it is text, a strong font and format are helpful too. If everything was colourful, I reckon I would have a hard time singling things out in my memory but colour makes my experiences more memorable. Sometimes, I forget the important details of the experience and only recall the colour in it. My brother’s famous example is my memory of him wearing green socks one particular day in our childhood special for some other reason. Despite the many re-tellings of the real occasion, I cannot remember what actually happened that day. Colour is just one of the ways that I group things  in my life but it is by far, the most attractive solution for the most complex problems I face. That’s right. Colour solves things.

Call me crazy but I recently started a course called ‘An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking’. As someone who had a blinding mental block to mathematics, I never believed that I could enjoy playing with numbers and funky symbols. Having a math-geek for a husband helps but what makes my re-discovery of mathematics infinitely easier are my colourful ‘problems’. It is so much fun to talk myself through proofs of theorems that affect pretty much nothing in my life when I have my colour pens at the ready. Jotting down every single step in my thought process is no longer tedious. I wish I did this at school. Colour makes things accessible because colour makes me happy.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Double-take

Surprise free afternoons are great. Crossing things off a to-do list earlier than expected, I can wander free and roam wide, going wherever my feet or my stomach take me. I keep discovering new corners of my adopted city, wondering how another gem had escaped me until then. With no guide book in hand, I stumble on some of Vienna’s treasures completely by chance. I sniff out my adventures in a variety of ways. I sometimes hear some music or spot an interesting shopping bag or catch a whiff of something delicious or simply follow the crowd when I get off a tram somewhere completely new.

One such afternoon, I asked a lady who was getting on my tram where she got the unusual flowers she was carrying and realised that it was just around the corner. I promptly jumped off and made straight for the flower shop. What greeted me round the bend was a market I’d been to before but this time I approached it from another side.  Even though I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t a completely new place, I decided to take a second look. Ambling past stalls with fresh produce, I began to notice things I hadn’t the last time I was there. Not only did I find the unusual flower shop, I also observed the demographic around me start to change.

As I tried to find a non-creepy place to watch the life around me, I stumbled into Himmelblau and almost forgot my mission. I got distracted by all the gorgeous Indian-looking prints in the shop and gently picked up and replaced quite a few things before I realised there was a matching cafe through a secret doorway hiding in plain sight. How had I missed this little gem before? Unashamedly feminine and playful in its decor, this cafe was perfect for me sans husband. Munching on yummy salad and sipping fresh carrot juice, I looked out onto the street to witness the slices of society at the market that day.

Friday afternoons are seemingly when the yummy mummies with fashionable buggies meet working friends who aren’t accompanied by little people. Eventually, the partners of the largely female populace start to appear and many greeting kisses are exchanged. The waiters of the cafés scurry around to add chairs to growing tables and start taking several new orders while picking up cutlery that children fling in all directions. Retirees meet young professionals one can only assume are their children who they are clearly proud of. A book club convenes and serious chatter is punctuated with laughter. Many exclamations are made and there is a general air of relaxed friendship and familiarity. This afternoon changed my perception of a notoriously snobbish district of Vienna. I saw something different. I am happy I chose to take a second look.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Reading in Public

Image

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Pop-ups Enabled

A scene from ‘Komm, süßer Tod’: ‘Come, sweet Death’

Vienna offers a never-ending supply of interesting adventures. With a sobriety that becomes this former imperial city, Vienna entertains, amazes and confuses me daily. For starters, I have never felt less groomed than a dog before moving here. I find this hilarious. Walking through a park, using the underground or at the theatre, there is no place a Viennese person considers it inappropriate to shout at a complete stranger, showing extreme irritation over a seemingly trivial thing. Truly amazing. It only follows that the Viennese taste in film should be equally inexplicable. Austrians, I’m told, have a morbid sense of humour which is perfectly encapsulated in the indie films by Josef Hader.

I once read Komm, süßer Tod for an Austrian-German class so when a friend of mine invited me to go see the film at a pop-up ‘heuriger’ recently, I decided it was time to actually understand the plot. A heuriger is usually a restaurant managed by a local farmer or vintner, set in leafy surroundings, selling homegrown produce and authentic Austrian cuisine. In an attempt at being ‘alternative’, a selection of freshly made Austrian delights along with an inflatable cinema screen and a few picnic tables, were dropped into an old ballroom hidden on a forgotten street. The people who attended this unusual showing were clearly rebels from a typically conservative art-scene, buying fruity beers from the pop-up bar and chatting seriously about the brilliance of Hader.

I think about 20 minutes had passed when the Austrians in our group suggested we move to a quieter corner because they couldn’t understand the dialogue. Not entirely sure whether they withdrew for my sake or genuinely because they could not understand the Viennese dialect but I gratefully joined the exodus to the garden. In true Austrian fashion, the beer garden was closed before the rest of the venue so we made our way into another spacious room. Perhaps we were keeping the neighbours awake with our alternative event which featured no music, laughing or loud noises. Being linguistically challenged and therefore, unusually quiet, I busied myself with taking in the atmosphere. The peeling paint, the ornate plasterwork on the ceilings, the scale of the rooms and imagining what might have happened in this once beautiful space. I am sure it was positively amazing.

 

Tagged , , , ,

The Blue Danube

Can you believe this is in Vienna? The Danube takes up a good chunk of this sleepy capital, sedately gliding past the modern ‘skyscraper’ section, nudist zones and extensive parks.

Before the multi-storey revolution happened however, the Danube decided to leave the perimeter of the city and make a run for it. Tamed back into submission soon after, any bird can see that the water now forms a distinct D. In the pregnant part this D is a slower, cleaner, blue-er version of the famed Danube. Sufficiently slow to play some competitive kayak-polo/hockey.

Safe enough for a 10 year old to take an inflatable raft out with absolutely no skill or fitness whatsoever, this lazy arm of the river and its daredevils or lack thereof, provided much comfort to my over-anxious swimming persona.

I have been trying to learn how to swim for a while now. I’ve had enough lessons to put my teacher off teaching for the rest of his life and still manage to lurch backwards every third stroke. After I managed to tear my extremely attractive bright yellow silicone swim cap earlier this summer, I decided the only way to swim was to take to the water like a true Viennese woman. Head up, or more importantly, hair up and out of the water. This is a skill I have yet to master without getting a massive crick in my neck.

If I ever tire of trying to swim, there are other ways to enjoy this natural gem within the city-limits. Armed with paddles, I could bat away at floating reeds without wondering if they were snakes encircling my legs or fish nibbling at my toes. A slime-free boarding experience wouldn’t go amiss either. The mossy sludge by the banks just as you lower yourself into the water helps you to appreciate the cold, steel step-ladders of over-chlorinated swimming pools. Then again, where would I be without the delicious thrill of doing something that slightly scares me.

Afterall, every struggle has its rewards. I ponder this as I watch the sun go down over the water, content, sunburnt and with the love of my life and a picnic.

Tagged , , , ,