Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making It In Madrid

The last entry is unfinished, I suppose, but I felt I needed a new one (despite not having the last one posted yet) to really talk about things. I thought I felt overwhelmed in the London airport looking at all those people and feeling really lame about all my shit, but only 24 hours later, I’m already thinking back at it fondly as cute to feel so overwhelmed by that.
After the ridiculous layover, where I got no sleep at all, I went to check my bag at 4:30 in the morning, went through security and bought a terrible sandwich from starbucks in the airport. I probably could have gotten a hotel for the amount it cost me to not starve in the airport. Sigh.
More waiting, and this time my laptop was dead from the overnight usage, and I don’t have a UK adapter because I was only supposed to be on my own in the UK for a couple hours on two separate occasions, so it seemed unnecessary.
Rather than a BA flight, I was now on Iberia. Next time I say “no, I don’t need an exit row,” I need a swift kick to remember that just because BA planes are decently roomy does not mean that all of them are. I spent the next 2 hours and change feeling like I was going to die from a bloodclot or something because I couldn’t actually sit without my legs turned sideways and still shoved hard against the seatback in front of me. There were also lots of shouting children, though thankfully I only heard them intermittently when I paused my ipod.
Finally I got to Madrid and felt like I was in the wrong place about 17 times because I really have no idea what I’m doing. I was one of the first people to get to the baggage claim, and my bag was literally the first one to come off. How random is that?
Then I had to sort out the metro situation. I knew what station I was looking for, and I know that the airport is kind of out of the city and only 1 line goes to it. It took a lot of staring at the board, sweating, looking at the little subway map, sweating more, fiddling with the ticket machine and having it reject my credit cards, sweating a lot, asking for help, going all the way back upstairs for an atm, then finally buying tickets. The train was ok, but it did take me quite a while. I had to transfer twice to different lines, with all my heavy shit, sweating like I was dying, covered in plane/airport grime. I can’t remember the last time I felt quite so gross.
When I mercifully reached the station I wanted, I had to drag my suitcase up about 100 stairs. This station, for some reason, had no escalator or lift, even though almost all the other places I transferred at did have them. On street level, I was turned around and confused, but after wandering around a bit, found the sign for my hostal. I pressed the intercom button for the door and heard nothing, nothing, nothing, then a voice goes “Yes?” sounding almost bitchy, and I said I have a reservation, and he says, “yes, i opened the door for you. (pause) The door is open.” I pushed and pulled and it finally moved and I felt exceedingly dumb. Up a floor, another locked door and I feel like a frustrated monkey trying to get in, before I’m greeted by a man who was already waiting for me and everything.
He proceeded to be the nicest, most helpful person I think I’ve ever met. He gave me a city map and drew on all the important things, explained a bunch of areas of the city, talked to me about Canadians and how he finds the Canadian accent is easiest to learn from when learning English (his was very good).
Eventually I got a room, and washed a bunch of essentials in the shower before I showered myself. It was glorious, that shower. Not just because it’s a decently nice shower. I probably would have been happy with a dribble of water out of a hose by then, but it is a nice shower.
It was around after 2 by then, a full 24 hours since we left Vienna, and I still hadn’t slept more than 10 minutes, but hunger was definitely battling with sleep, so I walked down to Atocha street and wandered, finding a little cafe place to eat. The waitress didn’t smile once, and I think I’m totally letting that make me feel bad. I tried a little bit of Spanish, like “agua,” “gracias” and even “la cuenta?” for the bill (all with big, nervous tourist smiles that usual make people smile back).
Then more wandering towards the Museo de la Reina Sofia, supposedly free on weekends, but turns out it closes at 2:30 on Sundays, so I was way too late. I took a different way home, around the opposite side of the building and managed, despite staring at my map every 12 steps, to get lost for a while. But thankfully I have a semi-reliable internal compass during the daylight hours, so I had some faith if I kept walking in the right direction, I should be okay. Eventually, I was right.
After a stop at a grocery store, for cold drinks, I came back here, already sweaty again (apparently it was supposed to be 31 here today?), and slept for a little while, maybe an hour or so.
When I woke up, I was hit with the strongest wave of homesickness and disorientation I think I’ve ever felt. I have no internet here, and don’t know anyone in a city where I don’t speak the language. I know that I should be proud of myself for doing something that is probably scary even to the most outgoing people I know, but mostly I was just hit with an overwhelming need to give up and go home where I don’t feel stupid all the time. It’s certainly made me rethink my moving to Europe thoughts because it would only be worse if I didn’t have a relatively limited time frame on it all.
It’s funny because I really did spend the first two weeks not missing home much at all. I was busy and had friends, and their dramas to deal with on top of being in a new city. Vienna is also more English than most cities in non-English countries (though given what I’ve heard so far, if I’m honest, there’s plenty here in Madrid too), and the food was pretty comfortably western. And I always felt pressured to go out and experience the city there because my friends were going out and I tagged along rather than sit in the hostel, but here, I remembered that I only have myself to do that now, so if I don’t push myself, I could spend a bunch of time in nice, but generic hostel rooms, and not experience Spain or Italy at all. It’s hard to know how to balance it, because there is a point at which I have to do what’s comfortable, and pushing myself to do crazy things is almost as likely to lead to me remembering this trip badly as not pushing myself, if that makes sense.
What I mean is that I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted time, but I also don’t want to feel like I’ve pushed myself to do so much that I miss the point, and I’m not sure where that line is. I just need to keep reminding myself that only I get to decide that anyway, so pressuring myself is stupid. And to breathe. Breathing is good.
I think my attachment to the internet is unhealthy too. I’m feeling so isolated largely because I can’t reach out through email or facebook or even posting a blog. It’s a security blanket, because half the time, I don’t even talk to people on there. Anyway, my guidebook says this plaza is a free wifi hotspot, so I’m going to head there soon, and I guess if you’re reading this on the weekend, that means I found it and it worked. Yes, I did just say my attachment is unhealthy, now I’m going to go get my fix. Admitting a problem and doing something about it aren’t the same step. Plus, I think I’ll take what comfort I can get right now.
Anyway, It’s 7pm here, so perhaps I will head out and see what I can see tonight. I still feel the panic at the edges, threatening me, but sitting here thinking about it really isn’t helping any.

“Non, Je ne regrette rien” – Edith Piaf (both the title and the quote. It means I regret nothing.)


Goodbye Hugs and Long Layovers

As I write this, I’m sitting in the arrivals area of Heathrow, waiting out my exceeding long, overnight layover because I’m way too cheap to do something like find a hotel for 14 hours, especially when I’d still want to be back at the airport by about 4 am anyway. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually sleep a little here later.
But let me go back a bit, and maintain the continuity with my last entry. I did, indeed go to the impromptu little soiree Rachel set up, beginning at Crossfield’s Australian Pub. Kathy, Jill and Elinor also came along, and we met up with some of Rachel’s new Austrian friends. We proceeded to play foosball, eat pub food and drink. Lots.
Yet again, I somehow ended up drunk at 1516, this time on a combination of tequila shots, vodka shots and Radler. It was a good night, indeed.
The next day—my very last in Vienna—was spent writing in the park with David, where I got super sunburned on my shoulders and my legs. Awesome. We went to the Naschmarkt again, needing some dried strawberries for the road, then ate garlic soup and gelato for lunch. Our final group meeting was an informal affair where we talked about our progress with our plays and as writers. I felt a little strange hearing all these talented writers talk about having never written before, and then me saying I’ve taken quite a few writing courses and been working at creative writing for several years now, and I’m probably not much further ahead of any of them for it. We also got to meet Natalie’s dog, Rocket, and I was able to cure a little bit of my severe case of dog withdrawal by getting some snuggles and kisses from him. I still miss my dogs though.
After the meeting, we ate at a little cafe/restaurant that is, quite literally two doors down from us, called Smokey’s Bar Food. They give you a ton of food for really cheap given the proximity to the center of Vienna. 8.50€ (maybe $11 or so CAD?) gets you one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever tasted, a huge salad and a huge serving of potatoes.
On that note, I really don’t think I can accurately describe how good I ate in Vienna. Even the street vendor food I had was amazingly good. If you’re ever in Vienna, I have a whole list of places I could recommend near the city center. I’m going to crave the garlic soup from Venezia for the rest of my life, and I don’t know where I’ll ever find such good hazelnut or lemon gelato in Canada. I feel like such a fat kid talking so much about the food, but I had psyched myself out pretty badly before I left Canada because I’ve always been a picky eater, so to find I liked pretty much everything I ate was a really pleasant surprise. I also found it shockingly easy to eat vegetarian there. I only ate chicken or shrimp at about 5 meals the entire trip, which is way less than I would at home. It makes me want to put a little more effort into eating less meat at home.
Anyway, enough about food (I swear, even with all the extra exercise I was getting there, I gained weight in Vienna. Ugh.).
This morning dawned with the unmistakeable sadness that comes with leaving a place that feels good, though I think we were all ready for a little time away from each other. For me, at least, it also dawn with a lot of trepidation about what’s coming.
After breakfast, the last four of us to leave took a cab to the airport around noon, and got on our shared flight to London—the last shared journey for us. After a delay boarding in Vienna and a delay in London airspace waiting for a runway, we were about 40 minutes late.
The plan for me was to already be checked in for my Madrid flight, and then find somewhere to store my luggage at Heathrow, before following Elinor on a little London adventure, since she’s got about 4 days here since the London to Calgary British Airways flight was cancelled.
Unfortunately, the luggage storage place is only accessible from 5am to 11pm when I would have wanted to get my luggage around 4, AND they charge £8 for 24hours of storage (around $15 CAD I think?). Can you say ridiculous? Already frustrated and stressed and hot and tired from lugging my heavy shit all over the airport to find this out, I gave up on going with Elinor, so after a goodbye hug, I began looking for somewhere to kill an entire night.
What I have learned already knew but have had reaffirmed today:
-I seriously envy people who travel with practically no stuff (though I still have no idea how they do it)—and wish I’d left a few things home
-airports are crazy expensive
-while being in different places may be awesome, travelling itself actually REALLY sucks
-travel stress makes me weepy
-I miss home if I have time to think about it
Anyway, I ate some really overpriced bad pasta, drank an enormous coffee (so I’m brimming with caffeine right now), and wandered around just trying to find somewhere to sit that was slightly quieter than the inside of a plane’s engine.
After much wandering, I found it. It ain’t great, but it’s the least crowded area I’ve found. At the little convenience store here, I bought something called a King Tango (cherry flavoured pop) though I didn’t read that it contains sugar (good) AND sweeteners (really not good). Boo. I also bought a Kerrang, which is only £2.20 here, as opposed to something like $12 in Canadian bookstores. I’m trying to kill time by doing my homework (I have plenty of it to get done), but I’m also tired and cold and really wish I had a bed right now.
I’ve also been having a ton of difficulties with my allergies the last 4 or 5 days. I forgot how bad spring can be. I can’t even wear eye makeup right now, and I have that itchy feeling in my ribcage underneath the skin, which is impossible to fix by scratching.
But, here’s my attempt to redeem all the whining I just did: A couple of times, I’ve looked at my wrist and it has done exactly what I hoped it would do. It has reminded me that all the bitching I’m doing needs to be kept in perspective. I’m doing something most of my friends are crazy jealous of by travelling around Europe. Of all the problems to have, a long layover, overpaying for food, and seasonal allergies are pretty good problems to have.
I’m pretty certain this entry could bore you to death. Sorry for that. I’m bored right now, so I’m sure that’s a contributing factor.
I’m going to attempt a little more homework now. By the time I get the entry posted, I have no idea where I’ll be, but it won’t be here. There’s no free internet here, and as we established before, I have problems justifying airport costs. Sigh.

“The glove compartment isn’t accurately named/’Cause behind its doors there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm and all I find are souvenirs from better times”

Afternoon becomes evening becomes the middle of the bloody night. It’s 2am local in London (3am Vienna, 7pm Calgary), and the airport that was a teeming, crazy mess of humanity a few hours ago is mostly asleep. There’s something kind of nice about seeing it this way. The lights never go out, perhaps, but this place does sleep. Just not me, of course.
I tried. I really did. I even found a group of benches without arms so I could stretch out, but it’s too bloody cold and uncomfortable. Eventually I gave up and watched episodes of Extras on my ipod.
I should be reading. At least then, I might feel like the weight of my ridiculous carry-on is justified. But, no. I could also do homework.
Instead, I wandered a bit. I’m sort of glad I did. I walked outside onto the main entry of the departures area. My flight is the next one out, top of the board, about 4.5 hours from now. This place is very different this time of day. I wish I’d taken a picture of the insanity a few hours ago, just for the comparison shot, but I never thought it’d be worth taking a photo of at 3am. A pleasant surprise, I suppose.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Controlling the Message

I can’t believe my time in Vienna is almost done. It seems like I just got here, though in a strange way, it also feels like I’ve been here much longer than two weeks. It’s a comfortable city, and I could see myself getting lost here (in the good way).
After a morning playwriting workshop, a group of us (David, Ian, Rachel, Jill, Elinor and myself) hopped the train for Schönbrunn. It’s a palace that was the summer residence for royalty in Austria, and it is a-m-a-zing. The size of it is totally incomprehensible to me. The palace itself is one thing, but to come out the back doors and see the enormous palace’s something I’ll never forget, I’m sure. The rooms in this place were pretty amazing. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, but there are some really cool rooms. One is decorated to look like the entire room is made of blue and white porcelain (though only the clock, chandelier and candle holder actually are); another pair of similar rooms have little shelves all over the walls for small decorative items, and the most amazing inlaid decorative wood floor I’ve ever seen.
When we finished wandering through the palace, we headed into the mazes, since it was included in our ticket. They were fun, and I totally failed. Of our group, I was dead last to find the centre (though some of the girls cheated, so I think they’re disqualified), but eventually I found it, and the view was worth it, huh?
We were about to head up the big garden hill when a freak storm hit, absolutely drenching everything. We ducked under the cafe awning and waited it out, eating some lunch. When we were done, it had just cleared up. Our timing couldn’t have been better. So up the hill we went.
It’s quite a trek, actually, but again, well worth it. The view from the hill, and then from the top of the building is incredible. Go back to the second picture in this entry of the view of the gardens from the back door: see that tiny pair of wings on the roof of that building? I stood there.
Yeah. I know.
After that, we headed home, and eventually David, Ian, Kathy and I went for a late dinner at Mama’s kitchen, a tiny little place half a block off the main street leading toward Stephansplatz. Chicken Schnitzel and Radler followed. Fried food and lemonade beer. Who could want more, right? Oh right, then we had more gelato.
The next day, we went off early on the S-bahn (above ground train) in search of Zentralfriedhof (the main cemetery). Some of the pictures I took there are amazing (thanks to beautiful stones, the invasiveness of ivy, and great light, as well as one convenient snail).
Please note, I asked them to hold hands for the photo. They wanted me to be clear that they weren’t just doing it on their own. :P
We took the above ground train back toward the hostel and stopped at a cafe and a bakery, then a big fountain we had passed on our way before. I giddily took photos of the water, loving my full manual camera just then. Yes, I’m a nerd.
After a short stop at the room, and a bit of a nap, we headed out, since we still had time to kill before our play. We hopped on the u-bahn red line and went all the way out to Leopoldau (or Leopleurodon, as David and Ian call it), wandered a bit, found nowhere suitable to write, and came back to Stadtpark where we watched little kids at the skateboarding park by the train station until it started to rain. We then went to a place called Koi where we worked on our writing exercise, and I ate egg noodles with prawns and broccoli.
Our play was late, so we headed off at almost 9. My Own Private Biopolitics was a show very different from my expectations (though I should be used to that by now, right?) I think I expected more bioethics than politics, which is just my brain filling in the blanks wrong, I suppose. Anyway, it was one of those weird shows where I couldn’t tell if the audience was laughing with the performer or at him.
However, it did raise some interesting questions about the value and purpose of art, and how much control the artist can and should take over the message the audience receives. I for one found that he was so intent on his conception of the piece that it felt more like a thesis defence than a piece of art. You know how a joke ceases to be funny when it has to be explained in minute detail? I felt a little like that, losing the message in “the message.”
It really did get me thinking that for me as an artist, my natural inclination is that I want people to get every reference and inside joke I make, to follow my train of thought and go where I go. I suspect most artists want this, because I suspect most people make art in some way to connect with others. However, I need to remind myself that I can’t control how any audience interprets anything, and that as an audience member, there’s a real joy that comes from making your own connections to a work. I suppose this fits into “show, don’t tell.”
The one thing I’m still trying to figure out is how he gave the audience permission to laugh (whether he wanted them to laugh or not, they had no qualms about it), where the audience in Do Animals Cry? did not feel so entitled (except for a few rare folks). I’m not sure if it was something to do with writing or delivery, or if it was just the difference between two audiences. Perhaps it was also that he invited some audience participation, and kept the house lights up on us for most of the show (watching us the same way we watched him? And yet some audience members felt no pressure under that surveillance: several people did leave partway through, including one guy who stomped off about 15 minutes in and slammed the door on his way out).
I had many problems with his piece, but at least I didn’t find it cruel in the way I found Do Animals Cry? to be completely mean. In the last year, particularly through writing fiction and now plays, I’ve found that I’m very modernist, in the sense that I am fine with uncomfortable messages, but that there are certain types of formal messing about that I don’t tolerate well. I still like narrative. Sue me. Post-modernism just ain’t me.
Today, I’m back to one of my favourite places, Stadtpark. I’m watching some ducks chase each other, and some kids who are clearly on a field trip screech and chase each other too. On the way here, I stopped at a jewelry store I’d seen a few days ago and bought two pairs of earrings (yeah, I know Mom, I don’t need more earrings. But they’re really pretty), then at the “British Booksellers” where I bought a small map to keep, and a copy of a play that Natalie recommended to me.
As I began with, I can’t believe how little time is left here. Today is a free day for us to write, and tonight, Rachel’s getting a bunch of people to meet at Crossfield’s Australian pub for one of our last nights here. Tomorrow, we have most of the day to ourselves, until our final group meeting in the evening and the next day, I head for the airport around noon to fly to London. So far that flight is still unchanged, though, because of the British Airways cabin crew strike, my flight to Madrid was cancelled, and I had to find another. This resulted in a 14 hour layover in London, and I won’t get to Madrid for an extra day (Sunday morning instead of Saturday late).
Oh well. There are worse places to be stuck than London, that’s for sure. Elinor is actually going to be there for a few days now, since the London to Calgary flight was also cancelled. She’s meeting some friends of friends or something, so I’ll probably tag along for a little adventure. 14 hours is too long to spend in an airport, though I’ll have to try to sleep at some point.
Anyway, I’ll be back with more later. Prost from Vienna!

“(It slips away) Be what you’re becoming/(it slips away)And not who you were/(it slips away) Grab hold of the here and now while you still have the chance”
-“20 Going On...” by Tsunami Bomb

Monday, May 24, 2010

Art and Connections

It’s been a whirlwind of days since I wrote last, and I haven’t been keeping up because I’ve been busy trying to experience everything. I don’t want to be that person, so concerned with documentation that I forget to experience, despite the fact that this is probably my nature. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, or something inborn that is part of why journalism seemed like a natural choice for me. Anyway, I’ve been living, and living well at that.
I’m actually writing this as I sit in the grass in Stadtpark in Vienna. I’m exceedingly lucky that our hotel is very, very centrally located, and this beautiful space is literally about 7 minutes walk from where we sleep. It has already become one of my favourite places in Vienna, and thus far, in the world. It’s a perfect place to sit and write on a pretty spring day.
But more on that in a moment. What haven’t I updated you on, dear reader? Well, I saw La Traviata. Or at least, I heard La Traviata performed, and saw part of the second half. What I mean is that I was sitting in a box, and for the first half, I literally could not see the stage because I was behind someone and was trying not to get in anyone else’s way. I was a little pushier in the second half, at least sliding my chair up enough to see 1/3 to 1/2 of the stage, depending on how the person in front of me was sitting. What I saw of the costuming was absolutely stunning, but since my main experience was auditory, that’s what I’ll comment on.
I’d only ever been to one opera before (Manon by Massinet) because a friend of mine who is an opera singer took me to it. If you know me, you probably know that I’m essentially an alternative rock girl, though my tastes are certainly eclectic, but I suspect some people might expect that opera wouldn’t be my thing. In Manon, I remember thinking that it was very cool that people could produce these sounds, though I’m not sure I really connected with it the way I wanted to. I felt like the male singers sounded better, and that I probably didn’t know how to listen to it. But this time around, I connected absolutely with the voice of the lead soprano. She had this...vulnerability to her voice that nearly brought me to tears. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard, and while I still don’t really know what I’m perhaps supposed to listen for, I know what I heard. It was kind of sublime.
The next day, David, Ian, Rachel and I wandered the city, first stopping at the butterfly house (completely underwhelming, especially if you ever saw the butterfly house at the Calgary zoo), though the surrounding grounds of the imperial palace were lovely and I got some nice photos there. From there, we headed to the Modern art museum, but the majority of the building is currently devoted to a video and television based exhibit called “Changing Channels” which required a much more dedicated perusal than we could give it just then. There were a few sculptural and traditional print based pieces that were interesting, but I think I’m modern where this was perhaps too postmodern for my taste.
The next day, Saturday, David, Ian and I went to the famous Naschmarkt, a big outdoor “farmer’s market” of sorts, which includes a large flea market on Saturdays. The food and the smells there were amazing. Particularly the booths full of dozens of varieties of spices, were unbelievable. I bought hummus that was fantastic, as well as dried strawberries that I really think I could give up all other sweets so long as I could have them. Though we also got ice cream at a gelateria near Stephansplatz, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to go without that lemon gelato. It was so good, we went back again yesterday.
That evening, we went out to a Marie Brassard show called Me Talking to Myself in the Future. I had already seen a Marie Brassard show, Peepshow, in Calgary at the Grand some time ago, so I knew to expect some strange technical experiences. However, I really feel that I couldn’t connect with either show the way I wish I could have. I didn’t feel that shiver that connecting with great art can give you, and I really wanted to.
Yesterday, David, Ian and I slept in, missing our free breakfast, so we decided to buy something and go sit in Stadtpark to eat and then get some writing done. We ate, but then the park was just so beautiful that I lay down in the grass in the sun and just basked like a lizard, getting no writing at all done. That being said, I really began to feel the intangibilities of that experience, so it was worth it for that. I wish I could document it in a meaningful way: listening to the noise of a thousand birds and the rustling of branches and the somewhat distant sound of cars, along with the murmur of conversation, and the music from an accordionist just out of sight; the alternating feel of the breeze and the clouds with the warmth of the sun, and the grass under my feet and hands; the smell of that grass, and the flowering plants this time of year, the coming to remember all the life in the greenery around me with every ant I saw, but there is no way to capture it that does it justice.
Eventually, we wandered on, meandering along a waterway, then through the streets before getting more gelato. We ate at the base of a statue, but it soon began to rain, so we headed indoors to dry off. After yet another nap (I’m not sure if this is still jet lag or I’m just not sleeping well and enough) and late, light lunch at a little outdoor eatery in Stephansplatz called Venezia (garlic soup is the best idea anyone’s ever had, and the fried vegetables we shared between the four of us were great), we went off to a play/theatre piece called Raoul.
Raoul was at least as abstract as Marie Brassard’s show. It didn’t really have text, just the rare word aloud, and the rest told through movement. It was essentially a one man show, with help from an extremely talented puppeteer and a small crew. There are about a million threads one could extract from Raoul because it tells a story without text. I personally connected with what I felt was a comment on the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience; they need each other. Obviously, without the performer, an audience is not entertained or shown anything, but also without an audience, the performer isn’t doing anything all that valuable. There were moments in the show that drew attention to our role as audience; we were reflected in a mirror, and in some way, we were the mirror in which the performer could see himself. It was exactly the kind of connection I felt lacking in Brassard’s show. To say the least, I dug it. And that all says nothing really for how talented James Thiérrée is. As a clown, mime, dancer, actor, performer, whatever you want to call it, he created a character who was a million characters, and his ability to convey animal movements, and emotive human movements was something that was almost not to be believed. As I say, about a million threads one could connect to, but suffice to say if you ever have the chance to see it, or anything involving him (he is apparently Canadian, so hopefully he performs in Canada from time to time), take the chance. Absolutely.
This morning, I’ve come back to Stadtpark to write, though so far this is the only writing I’ve managed. I really need to work on my play, but it’s incredibly difficult when all I want to do is experience this amazing city. And this morning has been well worth it.
Sitting in Stadtpark, I was interrupted just a little while ago by two young people who (after saying a lot of things in German, then I said “English?” and they said “Even better”) told me they were students, one from France and one from Germany (I think), and they were doing some surveying, and they asked me about God and family and what I believed our purpose in life was. Normally, I’d be a total skeptic about this sort of thing, expecting some sort of other interest to be going on; that perhaps this was all lead up to them wanting to ‘teach me the ways of Jesus’ or ask me to join their fight in the ‘war on family values and religion.’
But the conversation we had—them asking me to articulate my fairly secular ideas about purpose, life after death and what a family is—was actually totally enlightening. I think it’s true that we don’t think about these things enough. Particularly as someone secular who really denies religion any entrance into my life, and as a skeptic who maybe does not trust others or take them at face value all the time, I rarely articulate what gives me purpose, so I think, to be put on the spot like that, was really worthwhile. I also caught myself seeking validation as I answered—looking to them to nod or say they agreed with me—when I know this shouldn’t matter. But to catch myself at that and realize that I had to have answers that worked for me, not that worked for anyone else, was in itself, an enlightening experience, one I need to remember more often, I suspect.
Anyway, perhaps it’s where I come from that has made me such a skeptic. In Canada, as a non-religious person, these kinds of dialogues really do only seem to come up in the course of talking to religious people who either have an angle, or are trying to figure out how I can possibly make meaning without god. It’s a scary topic. Nobody wants to be made to feel stupid for their beliefs, and I think my culture has made me mistrust that dialogue as a tool people use. Of course, I also tend not to be a “philosophical person” by nature, or at least, I don’t want to be forced to articulate these things most of the time, but I like to think that my art can constitute a large part of my philosophy—that, like philosophical texts, my art can, if I’m doing it right, be read to mean different things to different people, while still speaking somewhat to my own beliefs and politics.
And I hope that my art connects with people sometimes in the way that Raoul connected with me—in the way that makes you begin to really think about the meaning of one’s experiences.
I’m going to post a poem that I started a while ago, when I finished Tom’s poetry class and began to think about why artist’s biographies were the center of my work. I’ve just finished it today, and no doubt it will change, but it had been stuck for some time, and I finally feel it captures something I mean to capture. It’s called edge.

I know that balance,
the ten- tative fulcrum
between creation and ;
in a mind divided
by two instinctive interests—
the drives.

I’ve held the teeter,
the faltering line where
want wars want—
victory neither sweet nor
justified. undefined,
the spoils.

I’ve felt that edge,
the del- icate stasis
of vital art and sanguinity;
imposing gloss white lines
like the rules of a page,
the margins.

but maybe that’s the artist’s dwelling,
and living to create must always mean
living to destroy, conjuring destruction
in every word.

I’d rather live here,
than anywhere else.

Ok, enough of that for now. It’s part of a constant dialogue anyway, one that seems to be a theme for me lately, and I certainly can’t articulate everything at once, right?

“One thing about great art: it made you love people more, forgive them their petty transgressions. It worked in the way that religion was supposed to, if you thought about it.”
-From Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, a book I definitely recommend, because it deals with the artistic drive, and how we create meaning in our lives.

"I'm not fully convinced that there's something wrong with this/could another point of view, biased and untrue, tear me away from you?/will you be my valentine if I'm a world away"
-“Valentine” by The Get Up Kids


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Postmodern, perhaps.

After starting with such a bang, I expected my time in Vienna might relax a bit, but as it turns out, the last few days have been nearly as crazed as the first one.
On Monday, we met to discuss Lipsynch, and then I crashed hard for a few hours. I was just too tired and jet-lagged to do that much.
However, by evening, we were ready to go. David, Rachel and I went to a late dinner, staying at this little restaurant until almost midnight. I had something which in English were called “deep-fried vegetable balls,” so I’m sure I’d prefer to call them their german name, if I knew it.
We drank Ottakringer Radler which, as the name informs you, is pretty rad. It’s essentially half beer, half lemonade, so for wimps like myself who can’t stand the taste of beer, it’s kind of awesome. After a few of them, beer stops tasting so awful. ;)
Anyway, we went back to 1516 after that, even convincing dear David to join us, where we were greeted like regulars by Owen, our favourite bartender. Frank met us later, and we somehow, despite having said we were going to go home early, ended up getting to the pensione after 4 again, after yet again getting lost.
For the record, I have now actually figured out how to get home from 1516. It’s literally 1 block to the pensione, but damned if we could figure that out before. We kept walking in exactly the opposite direction of correct, which led to taking taxis home two nights in a row.
Tuesday, we had a slightly later meeting to discuss our plays, before Jill, Elinor and I decided to head out in search of some fun. We found fun, definitely. It may have included a Radler at the Australian pub around the corner, and then drinks at a little cafe nearby, broken up by some shopping, mostly of the window variety (though I did find a pretty grey wrap to wear with my dress for only 5€).
We all met back at the pensione to get ready, and after 8, we walked the couple blocks to the Albertina, a nearby museum, which just happens to have a lovely restaurant on top of it, managed by our dear friend Frank. He brought us champagne (that was actually really good, despite the fact that I’d never before met a wine or champagne that didn’t make me want to gag. You get what you pay for, apparently. Or what other people pay for, anyway), and found us a table for six, despite being pretty busy. Lucky us. The meal was fantastic (I had white asparagus risotto with grilled prawns), and we had amazing dessert samplers placed in front of us.
We headed out to 1516 again after that, though we didn’t stay out nearly so late, and we managed to walk home without help or pointing in the right direction or anything.

Wednesday, Rachel and myself headed out to the Albertina, having seen signs about an Andy Warhol exhibit. We began on the top floor with the modern art, and even saw a Magritte, which made me practically giddy. The next floor down was older, and a little too uniform for me. Dozens and dozens of excellent landscapes, but a little dull after a while. We discovered after much searching that the Warhol exhibit ended on the 16th. Damn. However, along the way, we had a great conversation about art and mental health and the line between genius and crazy. It was really interesting to be looking at a Magritte or a Miro or a Matisse and talking about how illness feeds art. Very fitting given my poetic pet project this last year.
Anyway, by this point, we were running late to meet Jill and Elinor at St. Stephen’s cathedral. Late enough that we missed them, but we did go through the cathedral tour and the catacombs, which were creepy as hell. At the pensione, I tried to write, but ended up napping for half an hour or so while we waited for David and Ian who were supposed to meet us for dinner. They were late, so we headed off without them to a Shisha bar around the corner that had great middle eastern food (and employs our dear new friend Salim, whose name I am probably misspelling). After some falafel and things, we met the group to head back to MQ for Do Animals Cry?
All I’m left with after that show is a number of jokes, like “Do Animals Cry when you make them watch this fucking play?” or “Do Animals like this show any better than the audience, half of whom left long before it was over?”
It was a postmodern, pretentious, avant-garde mess, and my notes I took during the play (to write a review from later) look approximately like this:
was that supposed to happen?
oh my god, do something
I have no idea what I’m supposed to get out of this
[note on approx. 45sec. long scene of interest]
man in front of me was snoring
[note on approx. 42sec. long scene of interest]
Christ figure – ding ding ding
people are indeed leaving [as in the audience leaving the theatre]
what’s so funny, dude? [referring to a guy who kept laughing hysterically]
mean-spirited social experiment where we all fail the test?
[reminder of particular scene with a guy running through a tunnel over and over and over] – somebody make it stop. This isn’t fair [as in, to the audience. I swear it was like 10 minutes of a guy running in circles]
[note on approx. 53sec. long scene of interest]
Like, STFU, seriously [aimed at the writer of the “play”]
I would have walked out early and felt totally justified b/c I think that’s what they want.
[reference to a scene where a girl sings a bit of “It’s the end of the world as we know it” at 1/4 speed, in a totally disaffected monotone] “it’s the end” – I fucking hope so.

Taken directly from my notes.
Just thinking about this wreck of performance art/masturbation makes me angry. My review will be fantastic, you just wait.
Anyway, we all headed to coffee to discuss how pissed we were, then Rachel, Kathy and I went to the Irish pub nearby, and talked. Kathy and I had a fantastic conversation about art and the avant-garde (that some people I know will already be familiar with ;) )
And now you’re caught up.
Tonight is the opera (La Traviata by Verdi, my first Italian opera, I’m so excited). Tomorrow maybe Schoenbrunn palace, gardens and the Vienna zoo. This city is beautiful and fantastic, and I would live here in a heartbeat, especially if I spoke German.
Back with more later, kids.
"We’re going out tonight, it’s starting/We’re more than ourselves, we are a party, party”
-“Terribly Stable” by Hey Ocean!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Explorations of Intensity

This has been, without a doubt, one of the most intense 24 hours of my entire life up to this point. I barely know where to begin—perhaps because I am barely coherent right now. No doubt a contributing factor is that I think I’m still a little drunk at 10:30 in the morning (sorry, Mom).
But that’s more about how my night ended, so already, I’m ahead of myself.
Yesterday, the first day I woke up in Vienna, began early. We began to stir around 5am, despite the fact that, at least two of us had only around 5 hours of sleep (as previously mentioned in my last entry). After breakfast, we set off on our first Viennese adventure with one goal: get lost in the city, and what better goal could we have had?
We hopped on a subway, our method for choosing which one went something like this:
Ian (far left): Which one should we take?
(shrugs all around)
Me: The sign for that line is purple. I like purple.
Off we went, picking a station at random to get off at. And we struck gold. When we ventured up from the underground, the first thing we saw was an enormous enclosed wooden ferris wheel, which we promptly headed for.
We discovered that this was part of an amusement park—mostly closed because it was quite early on a chilly, rainy Sunday morning—which we explored like little children without adult supervision. We went on the ferris wheel, and it was extremely worth the 7.50€ student rate for the amazing view of the city. We then located a kids playground, which was actually quite cool.
We had to meet the full group at noon, so we returned to the pensione, taking a slightly different route, and a detour through Rathaus station, just to have a photo op with the train station sign (it’s probably not even pronounced this way, but we thought it was entertaining that it looked like rat-house).
The full group of us headed off to our first theatre experience of the trip, which took us to MuseumsQuartier, an enormous district of museums and theatres. We were at MQ to see Lipsynch, written by Canadian playwright Robert Lepage.
There is no way to prepare for the intensity of this experience. It is, no lie, 8 hours long, taking place in at least five languages, with an ensemble cast of characters who are all connected in different, striking ways.
The longest plays I can remember seeing were perhaps just over 3 hours, because, honestly, not only should most actors have trouble remembering more material than that, but most audiences aren’t willing to invest more than that. But I have to say that, while it was a significant investment—one I probably wouldn’t have risked without the impetus this course provided—it paid off. Sure, there were moments, like the portion right before the final intermission, which was mainly in French (with German subtitles on screens around the stage), where I flagged, and nearly passed out because I was running on such little sleep. Even under the best circumstances, it’s remarkably hard to pay attention to rapid-fire foreign language you can only hope to catch every fifth word of, subtitled with a language that is completely alien to you.
But there were more moments where I laughed aloud, or viscerally shivered with the weight of a realization, and it was also extremely rewarding to know that I can understand more French, Spanish, Italian and even German than I realized, enough that I followed a play that was, perhaps, one fourth English, without much help. It was also amazing to see such an extreme piece of theatre, because I can’t imagine what could be more extreme than this piece. It was certainly like being thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim, but I didn’t drown, and that’s amazing to consider.
Of course, that was only the beginning.
When Lypsynch let out, after the triumph of something like eight standing ovations (I’m quite serious, the crowd would not stop clapping and shouting for the actors to return to the stage. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again), we stopped at the pensione, then headed out with a similar goal to the morning’s explorations: lose ourselves in the city.
Mom and/or Dad and/or anyone who has any kind of respect for me, you can (in fact, I beg of you) stop reading here, and just know that we met and exceeded our goals, and enjoyed ourselves immensely, and absolutely nobody died or ended up in hospital.

If you’re still reading (which I sort of wish you wouldn’t, but I want this experience recorded and I’m still compulsively honest), then I suppose you’re determined? Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. You are warned.
We hopped a train, and wandered one of the apparent club districts, first finding an “American bar” the size of a shoebox, packed shoulder to shoulder, so tight we decided we couldn’t stay, then an Australian bar which we closed down after two rounds. There, we met a group of young Brit boys, and got a recommendation for another bar. We set off, promising to meet the Brits at the other bar, but we came upon two open bars across the street from one another—one, probably the one recommended to us, which only had a few people in it, and the other, a loud, crowded brewhouse called 1516, where a huge table of Irish guys celebrated a birthday by sitting on the bar and singing...something.
We sat at a table, the four of us getting into tipsy territory, before we talked Ian into inviting a cute boy alone at the bar over to our table. As luck would have it, he spoke English, and when Ian told him there was a table with three women who all wanted him to join us, he did.
And we drank. And caroused. And flirted. And bantered. And drank. And drank. And drank.
Most people who know me, know that I don’t drink beer. I find it quite disgusting, and I’m a Canadian, for god’s sake. But after a few Radlers (basically half beer, half lemonade)—which went quickly from drinkable, but not my favourite thing, to easier to drink than water—my glass started getting refilled with beer, and I neither complained, nor even noticed, really.
Our new table mate turned out to be Frank, from Holland, but living in Vienna for several months now. We talked about Canada and Europe (and I’m sure than more than once I exclaimed that I’m moving to Europe because, while I love Canada, I don’t want to live there anymore), and a bunch of topics, most of which I don’t remember at all now. There was much double entendre, and a bit of exploration on the apparently Canadian fascination with “breaking the seal,” something I can’t say I’ve ever understood as a subject for jeering about.
Eventually we were also joined by Salim from Algeria, also living in Vienna, who joined us at that time of night when conversations turn to philosophical non-sequiturs, which always seem really profound at the time, but in my opinion, rarely remain that way by morning.
By this point, there’s no delicate way to say it (or rather, there is, but I’m not interested in them), we were positively sloshed. There was a round of “water” courtesy of Frank, which looked an awful lot like vodka shots, and amped up my level of intoxication from probably a mild ‘drunk’ to ‘pretty wasted.’ We were into slurring, tipping off our stools, giggling like sugar-filled children territory by then, well after last call with a full pitcher still on the table. I have never, ever drank so much in my entire life.
When we finally neared the bottom of the pitcher, by about 4:30 in the morning, we decided it was probably time to call it a night, so after a pitstop where one of our comrades may have gotten rid of some of his alcohol content in the time-honoured ceremony of porcelain worship, we began the walk home. Yes, we tried to walk home after 4am in a brand new city. No, we did not know where we were going. Yes, we did get lost almost immediately.
Eventually, when we realized the futility of our wandering, we found a cab to pour us back to the pensione. It was after 5am by then, 24 hours since we woke up, and the four of us piled into our room, despite the fact that one of us was technically stationed elsewhere, and (I’m editing slightly because it’s the fair thing to do) promptly went to sleep.
Did I mention we had a 9am breakfast meeting to discuss the play?
And I’m proud to say, we made it, because we’re troopers like that (and we didn’t have much choice in the matter). So, in about (it’s hard to say because of the time shift between continents) 4 days, I’ve had 14 hours of sleep. I’m going for a nap now because I am crashing hard. I’ll be back soon with more.
I promised you stories. How’d I do?

"We were born to sin/We were born to sin!/We don't think we're special, sir/We know everybody is/We built too many walls/Yeah, we built too many walls!/And now we gotta run/A giant fist is out to crush us"
-"A Pillar of Salt" by The Thermals

Sunday, May 16, 2010

First Impressions

So, I can officially say I’ve slept on the terribly attractive (and uncomfortable) blue carpet of the London airport. Couldn’t sleep at all on the nine hour flight from Calgary to London, but the industrial grade carpet in the London airport—the kind of carpet I will always associate with my high school band room: basically some short, velour-y fibres over concrete—felt like a superb place for a nap.
But I should go back a bit. I had a weird week. I’m a really bad packer. When it comes to packing, I'm notoriously bad. Ask my best friend, who generally bears witness to my 4am-the-night-before-I-leave throwing random shit into a suitcase fiasco. Ask my parents, who've had to take me shopping numerous times upon arrival because I've forgotten a swimsuit, or a pair of shorts, or a toothbrush, etc, etc, etc. Ask anyone who's travelled with me, and had to see the too-large bag I bring only to hate "everything" I have with me because none of it goes together.
I freely admit to being really, really bad at packing. And I gotta tell you: I've never had to pack for more than two weeks. And I'm pretty sure I get exponentially worse at packing as the length of stay increases, so I truly have no idea how to pack for 7 weeks. 49 days is a long time. So as you may have guessed, packing stresses me the hell out.
On top of that, one of my dogs (Zap, our youngest, the black and white springer spaniel) had to be put to sleep on Wednesday. I was pretty awful and extremely quick. 2 weeks ago, he was perfectly fine. The same day, I went to the Chuck Palahniuk reading which was a really intense experience given the day I’d had.
I was also trying to see several of my friends before I left, so scheduling in packing time was ridiculous, and I ended up staying up until 5am on Thursday night, and then getting up at 9 am, just to continue getting ready. I fought with my bags and declared that I “didn’t want to go anymore” more than once. But eventually (after buying a new, bigger backpack on the way to dinner and the airport), I got everything into my bag and carry-on, and got through security (which was, yes, as fun as you might have expected it to be).
My flight from Calgary to London left at about 9:30 at night. And just for the record, this will have more significance to some of my friends than to others, but I was on the same flight as Christian Bök. Small world, huh? And I was further forward on the plane than him. Make what you will of that. The flight was about 9 hours. I did not sleep more than about 10 minutes on it. I hate trying to sleep on flights. I am no good at it. The food was really good, actually.
I watched a couple of movies, and thought I was dying from a blood clot when my leg started aching so bad I wanted to cut it off. Otherwise, it was uneventful. There was a 3 month old baby one row in front of me, but after fussing in the first 5 minutes of the flight, it didn’t make a sound the rest of the flight (admittedly, I had headphones most of the time, but it didn’t make any noise that I heard).
Then, the London airport. That bitch is big, kids. When we finally made it through the buses and another security checkpoint, we wandered around the really expensive stores (Tiffany and Co., Cartier, Burberry, Versace, Harrod’s etc.), then found somewhere to hang out for a couple hours while we waited. After being uncomfortable and trying about a dozen different places, I gave up and slept on the floor for about an hour. And now we’re caught up.
Flight to Vienna was pretty quiet. We arrived in Vienna local time about 10pm, but Calgary time, it was only 2 in the afternoon, and we were getting hungry, so after we got to the hostel (disturbing our already sleeping roommates), we went back out to find food. The only things open were a few really expensive restaurants, and some street vendors, so we found a stand that said pizza and hot dogs. The guy didn’t really speak English, but I managed to end up with some sort of spinach struedel. It might have been sleep-deprivation induced, but it was really good. We ate in the subway station because it was the only dry place we could find around. Did I mention it was pouring rain? I suppose not. And it’s forecasted to rain all week.
We couldn’t find anywhere to hang out, so we gave up and came back to our rooms. Our current room is about the size of a postage stamp, but I’m told we’re supposed to be switching because we were supposed to have a kitchenette and this one doesn’t even have room for a mini fridge. I shared a bed with a guy I’ve known for about a week. Technically we’re on separate mattresses with one sheet over them and separate blankets for over us. It’s weird. Anyway, I slept eventually. I’ve now had about 5 hours of sleep, but given I slept 4 hours Thursday night and...well, I guess the hour on the London floor counts as Friday night, so getting 5 hours on Saturday night is pretty good. So we’re gonna hit up breakfast pretty soon here.
I love you all back in Canada. If you’re reading this, comment so I know someone’s interested. Hopefully my stories will get more interesting over time.

"there's something coming around/as wicked as it may seem/as wicked as anything could be"

-"As Wicked" Rancid