Monday, November 30, 2009

What is George Hamilton doing in IACGMOOH?

Before starting I would like to remind Annabella that it is two weeks until the anniversary of her first (and only) blog entry.

Not that I am being critical - but I am anxious to see how she has moved on since 17 December 2008. I would particularly (for example) like to see some pictures of Stan and Ollie so that I can compare their plumpness with Monika.

We are now in the Swissotel overlooking the Bosphorus and Cate has gone off to do things with other people in the office. I used to do these sorts things and would go to the office every day to talk to people, have meetings, write notes and talk on the telephone.

At breakfast this morning I marveled at all the people having meetings about really vital things when all I had to do was wonder about where I was going to go to mooch around for the day.

You will see that I have an Internet connection. I was able to achieve this because my operating system is now in English and I can work my way through the maze of questions which need to be answered in order to establish a connection. It is horrendously expensive to do this in the hotel but I pawned my watch so that I could hook up long enough to post a Blog.

Since we arrived in Wien we have wanted to go to Do & Co. We have tried to book on a few occasions but have never been able to get in. Indeed – we could not for last Saturday for the main restaurant in Kärntnerstrasse so settled for the one in the Albertina.

Do & Co does the catering for Austrian Airlines so when Cate travels Business Class she gets to eat the food. I have had it twice when we flew Austrian Airlines on home leave and it is outstanding.

Of course some of the planes are not in real good shape. We have been on planes that were so old they had toilet seats held together with gaffer tape and they had to paint over the Swastikas on the wings – but this and the constant rattling and loose bits falling from the ceiling are nothing if you can have a decent meal.

Anyway Do & Co in Albertina was brilliant – and smoke free – and I can thoroughly recommend it.

We were not in Business Class coming to Turkey but I had a nice sandwich which I was able to scrunch up and insert into my nostrils so that I could not smell the very fat, hairy and odorous man seated next to me. He took up a great deal of room and I spent the flight perched at an angle hoping that my jacket wouldn't get stuck to his hairy forearms and require us to be separated by the emergency crews in Istanbul.

I was flicking around on the TV looking for something I could do to avoid learning German irregular verbs when I saw someone who looked like George Hamilton’s grandfather dressed in rags sitting on a log.

A watching this for a few minutes I realised that this was no ordinary TV show but something special – because I also recognised Joe Bugner who was at one stage the British Heavyweight Boxing Champion and now lives in Australia.

So I discovered this show ‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here’ (IACGMOOH).

I now know that this is a show where they take people who were almost famous and put them in the jungle where they wrestle snakes and eat beetles.

This is not a problem as we have discussed before that there are 350,000 different types of beetles and while it is tough going for the beetles that get eaten – and of course their families – it would do their little hearts good to know that millions of people around the world are watching them get eaten and this is a damned sight more coverage than they would get by being eaten in the dead of night by a Lesser Crested Mugwump.

I did a bit of research on IACGMOOH and they apparently do lots of other very unsavory things - many involving ropes, snakes and mud – I am not sure why but it is TV and apparently that’s what people want to watch – no I don’t know why – it beats the hell out of me.

Anyway – it was George Hamilton. What in the name of the Great Lizard King is George doing in a show like this where he can’t wear a tan and a cravat?

And I regret to say that Joe was beaten in whatever the contest was he had with a much younger man and was booted off the reservation – which was in Australia somewhere.

I read too much current affairs and too much history and I know things that it is not good for a person to know and to dwell on.

I am just about to delve into a ‘Europe: A History’ by Norman Davies. This runs to about 1,500 pages so it may be a while before I can report back. In the interim for the Turkey trip I am reading about Ataturk. I have to do this so that I can tell Cate all about the history of modern Turkey.

She can in turn belabor me with the history of the Habsburgs. She has told me many things about this enormous family but so far I have retained nothing.

Today I am going walking to take photos.

Home Wanted for Morris Dancing Cat

It will be nice to get away for a while so that we can actually get some sleep. This has become a rare commodity for some time now as Muffin is becoming increasingly deranged and Sissi has a toe fetish.

Cate works late almost every night so we don’t usually get to bed before midnight. This is the time Muffin decides to explore the bed and bedroom before settling down on the bed to suck her toes for an hour or so.

In the interim Sissi is pouncing on everything that moves so we have to make sure that our extremities are well and truly covered.

After licking herself from head to toe Muffin will then try to burrow into the bed. If she can do this (and I fight hard against it) she will inevitably settle down uncomfortably close to some delicate parts of my anatomy and I will lie awake hoping she doesn’t have a bad dream and lash out at an imaginary boo bah badbilly.

Muffin may then return to her perch behind the bed before early morning Morris Dancing on the bed. For amusement she will sometimes find a sock and carry it around the bedroom yowling pitifully.

At 4:00 AM Sissi’s eyes pop open and she starts to play – and with any sort of luck she will find a stray toe that has inadvertently found its way from under the bed clothes. There will be a shriek, gushes of blood - and a hurried retreat of all moving parts under the Doona again.

Muffin will decide that it’s time to explore the house to see what’s happening (nothing) and will need to be let out of the bedroom and which time I will take the opportunity to evict the Toe Slasher.

I will get to sleep again and them Muffin will want to come back into the bedroom and will yowl and bang on the door until this happens.

Then the alarm goes off.

The answers to your questions are:

We have to keep the bedroom closed because if Monika comes in there she does unspeakable things in Cate’s bathroom or – if the door is closed – on the floor or bed.

We can’t lock Muffin out (and we have tried) because if we do she yowls at the door like a Banshee and can be heard in Simmering – and then punishes us in the worst possible way. (I can’t say on this Blog what this is but if you send a stamped self-addressed envelope I will provide details).

Yes we have considered murdering the cats and burying them in the garden but would miss them terribly. (You need to be a cat person to understand this)

We bought some new fire implements – including some tongs – so that we can move logs around.

The picture is of the brush after Cate had swept up some loose bits of burning wood. We have had a training session and I have explained that metal does not burn but brushes do.

I am sure this will not happen again because she is a very quick learner. Although it doesn't really matter if it happens with this particular brush.

Incidentally the vet says that Sissi is very intelligent. I am not sure how this was determined by the vet but perhaps they have some basic tests with Cuisenaire rods they run cats through before surgery.

We bought a gigantic Christmas wreathy thing at the markets on Saturday. It is too big to fit anywhere so we have hung it from the ceiling. I will provide a picture if it survives Sissi during our trip to Turkey.

Two wannabe reality TV stars crashed a White House Dinner and want to sell their story for ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’. Has it come to this that people would pay them money to tell how they walked into the White House and had their photo taken with the President. What a breathless, tense and dramatic story this would be.

‘Well we walked into the White House and the security people didn’t stop us so we had out photo taken with the President’

‘What’s he like?’

‘Oh really nice he said hi’

‘Oh Fabulous stuff – and what happened then?’

‘Well nothing really. We left.’

‘OK Great – look forward to the book. Who would you like to play your parts in the movie?'

'Hmm....not sure about that yet but probably Brad and Angelina.'

The Grey Nurse is on the way out!

Palau 2008. Photos by Philippe Lebris of Marseille.

A reminder that we are off to Turkey on Tuesday. This may mean that I cannot Blog because my track record of getting an internet connection while we are travelling is not so good – awful in fact.

However – there may be some hope this time as when I upgraded to Windows 7 I was able to change the operating system on my notebook PC to English. This means that when the numerous error messages appear as I am trying to connect to the internet - I may be able to decipher them and take remedial action. We shall see.

Cate is working for three days and the we are renting a car and driving to Gallipoli. The Turkish one not the Italian one. Gallipoli – as all Australians know –is one of the many places where the Australians benefited from legendary British war planning and tactics.


They didn’t manage to kill us all at Gallipoli but shipped the survivors off to the Somme where the Germans used us for gunnery practice until they ran out of shells and had to surrender.

Incidentally – the nice people at the Palazzo del Corso in Gallipoli in Italy allowed me to cancel my reservation without any cost. They no doubt did this on the basis that anyone stupid enough to book a hotel in the wrong country would be dangerous to have as a guest -and they could not guarantee that I would not turn up there instead of Turkey. So next time you go to Gallipoli in Italy please stay with them.

I took Cate to the Central Friedhof at Simmering on Sunday and she was most impressed – as I knew she would be. It is a colossal cemetery and well worth a visit. For some reason the old Jewish section is entirely overgrown and not maintained at all.

There could be a number of reasons for this including that there were not a whole lot of Jews left in Wien after the war – and are not that many now. Or maybe they decided to let it become overgrown for dramatic effect – and it certainly works.

Parts of the Jewish section were bombed during the war. Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris was entirely focused on flattening Germany and Austria (well the residential parts anyway) and it is a bizarre thought that in this process he bombed dead Jews.

I finished reading a book last week that suggested that the war could have been shortened by some months had Churchill and others been able persuade Mr. Harris to bomb something useful – say for example the synthetic oil plants.

But he was very single minded – and popular in Britain – and instead of being sacked for disobeying direct orders from his superiors he was allowed month after month to flatten every city in Germany.

The additional penalty for this – apart from the obvious one of costing the lives of very many allied soldiers because the war went on for months longer than it should have – was that when the allies arrived in the German cities that had been subjected to Bomber’s attention – the infrastructure was completely destroyed – and the Americans and British had to start from scratch to rebuild Europe.

They erected a statue to Arthur Harris in London a few years ago and there were many protestors. For my money I think Harris should have been hanged as a war criminal – but in war this only ever happens to the losers.

Many things these days make me unhappy. One is the annihilation of sharks globally for finning. This grotesque and barbaric practice kills millions of sharks each year and is one of the major contributors to the death of ocean life.

However, in Australia we have had not had to resort to finning to kill all our sharks and have done it by more subtle means. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald says that:

“A new survey of grey nurse sharks shows the species is still in severe danger of becoming extinct.

The study, commissioned by the Federal Government, found just over 1,000 of the sharks along the east coast of Australia.

That figure is significantly lower than the 5,000 needed to sustain the population.
Accidental hooking is one of the main threats to the survival of the species.

Nicky Hammond, the marine program manager for the National Parks Association of New South Wales, says the State Government must act now to protect key habitat sites.

"Here we've got a critically endangered species, we know what the key threat to their survival is, we know where they spend the majority of their time," she said.

"It's a relatively simple process to protect those sites from that key threat of fishing by creating marine sanctuaries and that way hopefully we can actually save this shark from going extinct.

"Time and time again they continue to ignore putting in place the proper protection of marine sanctuaries in these areas and provide tokenistic protection instead.

"We're calling on the NSW Government, we're saying enough is enough, that we need to now get these sanctuaries in place before the shark goes extinct."

Now grey nurse sharks are pretty well the most harmless critters on the planet. In the 60s I used to surf with these creatures and it was not unusual at dusk to catch a wave and find yourself alongside a grey nurse shark.

Cate and I have dived with these sharks many times and I have patted them (If pat is the right word.

One of the major killers of sharks on the East Coast of Australia is the nets used to ‘protect’ surfers from sharks. Long nets are strung off beaches and these catch and kill sharks in their thousands – or did - nowadays of course there are so few sharks that the catch rate has dropped to negligible proportions.

You would think that this may prompt governments to stop netting and give the sharks a chance – no way. Nothing will be done and in a few years or sooner the grey nurse shark will be extinct and we will be added to the many thousands of species that have vanished since the arrival of the white man in Australia.

The recreational and commercial fishing lobbies in NSW in particular have as much power there as the NRA does in the USA. They dictate what governments can and cannot do – and grey nurse sharks are not high on their list of priorities.

I used to fret about this and about many other things like it. I now understand that the destruction of many species is unstoppable. We are rapacious beasts and absolutely nothing will be allowed to stand between us and the next meal – or the next dollar.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kapitan - there was an accident!

Kapitan, there was an accident in the research facility! It’s imperative we reach the acid baths…

I just had to share this site with you. Once again provided by my son (did I mention that he does not have enought to do?)


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Quolly!

Angry Angus Burger, Chiko Roll and Chiko Chick.

Happy Birthday for Friday Quolly!

Merisi is putting pressure on me to Blog on time – so today I am.

Sissi is back home and is not happy. She is very tired and has a cone around her neck so that she cannot lick her stomach – or in fact do anything much at all.

Maalie has reminded me of some of the things that have not infiltrated the Austrian culture. These include the Chiko roll which is an unspeakable concoction of vegetable matter and other detritus of indeterminate origin – together with sawdust and probably rat droppings – bathed in batter and deep fried for I don’t know how long – possibly days.

The last time I had one I was sober and this is the wrong time to eat a Chiko roll. This is the food you each after you have been swept out of the Pub well past midnight and you lurch up to the Chiko roll seller and say ‘give me two of you finest Chiko rolls my good man and be quick about it’.

Days later this is the only part of the evening you remember as those Chiko rolls tend to linger with you for some time. They have – I believe – a half life of 6 weeks.

But I do miss Crumpets – these are not exactly like the English ones but are pretty damn close and there is nothing like a toasted Crumpet on a winter morning.

We got a number of good things from the English - Crumpets and will get back to you with a more extensive list....I know.....Marmalade.

And I miss Bagels – it is possible to get good Bagels in Wien – but not near our place.

There are other things it would be nice to have – but we have adapted quite well. Fortunately the Austrians are sophisticated enough to have Crunchy Nut Cornflakes - which satisfies my breakfast needs.

I note in passing that Hungry Jack’s in Australia has responded to the obesity problem (we are second only to the USA) by introducing the Ultimate Double Whopper Burger.

Named the Angry Angus Burger this show stopper is a killer and users will be required to be wired up to a defibrillator before partaking of his gastronomic delicacy – which will no doubt be accompanied by a large fries and washed down with a liter of Pepsi.

Dietitian Melanie McGrice said it would take the average person 3 1/2 hours of walking to burn off the 5040 kilojoules gained by eating the burger, and its 80g of fat was twice the recommended daily intake. Jiminy Cricket! That many kilojoules would stop a Hippo in its tracks.

It’s nice to see fast food operators doing their bit for the health of the community.

On matters of skepticism – there is a fantastic scam going on at the moment for which most of the media has fallen hook, line and sinker.

A Belgian man – conscious but unable to communicate for 23 years - is now miraculously able to communicate. So far so good – but they way he communicates has to be seen to be believed. Watch this video and tell me that the guy is doing this himself.

Coma Man

“The therapist, Linda Wouters, told APTN that she can feel Houben guiding her hand with gentle pressure from his fingers, and that she feels him objecting when she moves his hand toward an incorrect letter”.

Yeh right!

He obviously spent the last 23 years while he was in the coma teaching himself to touch type -because he can do it without looking at the keyboard - if indeed he can see the keyboard.

Stuff like this makes me want to vomit.

Before you ask - why would she want to do this? The answer is that he is going to write a book - with Linda's help of course.

For a more definitive analayis of this scam see PZ Myers fabulous Blog. This should be required reading for everyone who cares.


We have tickets to “The Messiah” at the Wiener Konzerthaus on 8 December. This is one of our favourite Christmas traditions. I wonder if the audience here follows the custom of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus?

If you want to know why they do this – Wikipedia says:

“In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. Tradition has it that King George II rose to his feet at this point. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose. Royal protocol has always demanded that whenever the monarch stands, so does everyone in the monarch's presence. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood too, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries”

It’s funny because every time we go there are always a few people who do not stand up – I am not sure why – probably because they think it’s something to do with Christianity.
We don't really know why KG2 stood up. He might have had an Angry Angus Burger that was about to take revenge - or maybe he wanted to fart or scratch his bottom.

No matter - I love this quaint English custom which I hope will be with us forever - which given the parlous state of the planet is not likely to be all that much longer.

One down - three to go

I lost my electric razor. I looked in all the obvious places – washing machine – refrigerator – but it was definitively MIA. I went unshaven all day and was berating myself for getting forgetful – when I realised finally that I was thinking about it in entirely the wrong manner.

What I should have thought was ‘what would Sissi do with my razor if I left it on the bench in the bathroom?’ And there it was – behind the toilet bowl – apparently none the worse for wear.

A few things to report:

Sissi has been delivered to Dr Schnauser. She is not happy about it (Sissi – not Dr Schnauser) and particularly didn’t like missing breakfast. She will be collected – missing a few bits – this evening.

Many years ago we had Muffin attended to in this fashion. Six months after the event she presented us with two bouncing baby boys. We – and the Vet – were very surprised. The Vet was so surprised he did the job again at no cost.

We kept the boys – Baggins and Bilbo (who were named many years before the movies were released – and well before every second cat in Christendom was name Bilbo or Baggins). I asked the vet one time how many Bagginses they had on their books and it was something like 37.

Baggins was skittled by a car when he was only one year old but Bilbo survived until very late last year.

Muffin of course is still with us and I noticed on the ‘cat to people years’ chart in the Vet’s office that Muffin is the equivalent of 80 years old. She is certainly an old grouch and would be good company for Frau Gumpendorfer.

The dishwasher is now leaking so badly that I have to put a bowl underneath it when I turn it on. The dishwasher man (It would not be appropriate at this stage to call him a repairman) comes on Friday to collect another couple of hundred Euros.

We have finally finished our first jar of Vegemite. It has taken us more than a year to do this as we simply don’t eat much anymore. We have three large jars left so it will be a while yet before we ask visitors to bring us some.

I am however running short of my favourite ‘Australian Wildlife’ mugs – you know – the ones with Koalas, Kangaroos and Echidnas on them – so will give this task to our next group.

Billy is nearly one year old and we are having a party for him with a jumping castle on 10 December. Rozalin has arranged for his first service to happen – and I find this astonishing – the first service is not due for 20,000 kilometers or 12 months – whatever comes first. Well, Billy has only done 12,000 kilometers so far.

I know the Mercedes Benz people are very clever – but making a car that doesn’t need a service at all until it has done 20,000 kilometers is sensational. (I know Bill needs a service because he sends me a message every day – today it was it was a picture of a spanner with ‘ 27 Tagen’).

The printing presses are running hot in Wien and every day brings masses – and I mean masses – of advertising material to the door and letterbox. I could stop this avalanche if I could find out where to buy the appropriate stickers for the door and letterbox – but so far this has eluded me.

In the interim I am hiring Bobcat to clear the front door so we can get out to take Cate to work each morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is Frau Gumpendorfer the unhappiest person in Wien?

Sissi was due to go to the vet Monday to be deactivated in the kitten production department.

Well I realized just before taking her off to see Dr Schnauser that she hadn’t fasted (Sissi – not Dr Schnauser) so I had to ring and postpone until Wednesday. I am not looking forward to depriving her from food from the time she wakes up (about 4:00 AM) until we go to the vets at 11:00.

However – I have a massage so will be out of the house during the critical period. I need to tell you about these soon as it is very important and some really good things have come out of the massages I have started to have regularly.

(These – I hasten to add – are not the sort of Massages one can get in Japan Studio on the 2nd floor of our building).

If you are looking for the rudest Austrian in Wien you will find her at the Immigration Office in Modenapark – just near us. Well – at least that’s what our Immigration Agent Kristina tells us – and she is Austrian so would probably know.

The person in question in the Immigration Office – Frau Gumpendorfer - is certainly unhappy – clearly does not like her job – and gives the impression that it would be dangerous to let her anywhere near sharp implements.

I am sure she was much happier during the war as a high ranking Gestapo Officer.

The Immigration Offices in Wien (well – the ones we have seen) are ghastly places. They are post-war but look like they have been previously used as cells by the Communists before being turned into chicken runs to cope with the increasing demand for Huhner Schnitzel.

A modest rehabilitation took place prior to occupation by the Immigration people – but there are still feathers stuck to the ceilings.

They are crowded with throngs of poor sods – mainly from Eastern Europe - trying desperately to stay in Wien and to do this have to run the gauntlet of Frau Gumpendorfer who gives them hell before retiring to her apartment with her aged Pekinese to dine on cold Sacher Wurstel and a handful of gravel.

We passed the test (if you burst into tears you’re not tough enough to stay and are out!) so will get our new residency cards in a few weeks. Unfortunately to do this we have to go back to Frau Gumpendorfer for the second part of the endurance test. This will probably involve cold water and birch rods.

As we have now been here for 15 months we are tough enough to withstand anything the Austrians can throw at us.

Cate had her second visit to the Gym and her first major workout so is having difficulty moving about the house. Her third visit is tonight and she is required to take large amounts of money and pay well in advance - in cash.

The payment of money to a Gym usually triggers and adverse reaction in Cate (i.e. she never goes again) but she seems really keen so I am providing lots of encouragement. last night I even made her very favourite soup of all time (Thai Chicken and Rice).

Austrians are not taught to drive but they are give some ancillary training before they get a licence. The first is in horn blowing. They are trained to toot their horn at the car in front of them within a nanosecond of the light turning green. They have fantastic reflexes and I would not challenge any of them to a Whack a Mole contest.

I tend to drive at a leisurely pace – I mean what would I be in a hurry for? so have incurred the wrath of a few drivers recently. I never react badly and always give them my friendliest smile. I wonder if Frau Gumpendorfer drives. I would beat Jenson Button away from the lights if she was behind me.

In my quest to do anything to avoid studying German - last night I found another weird TV show. This one is called ‘Dating in the Dark’ and yes that’s what it’s about. I didn’t delve into it too deeply but did see that six people were sent into a completely dark room to sit at a table and talk to each other. I guess we could see them with night vision cameras.

I reckon that meeting someone in the dark would lead to some horrifying discoveries when the lights are finally turned on. I means it’s not likely that Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson is going on be on the other side of the table.

It is more likely to be Frau Gumpendorfer – and worse – she may have a hockey stick.

I am sure there have been more pointless reality shows than this - and I am equally sure that I will stumble across them and let you know.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cate's Mastermind subject is the Habsburgs

We went for the first time in a long time to Cantinetta Antinori and it was absolutely outstanding. We had not expected to end up there so I was not really dressed for the occasion. You don’t need a suit and a tie for a place like that but I was certainly the only person in a T-Shirt. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable but we are clearly Auslanders and heathens so it didn’t matter too much in the overall scheme of things.

On Saturday we tried somewhere completely new – Zimolo – off Weihburggasse – which we have wanted to try for some time as we have had recommendations from Cate’s work colleagues. It was indeed excellent and we will pay it another visit.

We were next to a table of 12 which was celebrating a birthday party – until a large grim Russian (LGR) arrived with a smaller grim Russia (SGR). The large grim Russian greeted the Birthday Boy (BB) and then everyone else at the table with a handshake - and then the two Russians sat at a table by themselves – about 1 metre from the Birthday Party.

This killed the party completely and they all just sat there looking glum and smoking. We spent some time speculating about the relationship between the LGR and BB. Our final (and our most rational) theory was that the LGR had come to ensure that BB carried out his allotted task of whacking someone in the Restaurant. Indeed BB left the table for 10 minutes later in the evening and came back wiping his hands.

I did not inspect the toilets to see if there was a body there but will wait the Austrian Times – if it did happen they will report it.

We presume that BB had to do this so that they could assess his suitability to work for the Russian government whacking journalists in Moscow subways. There is a growing demand for this occupation in the run up to Putin declaring himself President for Life.

Sunday was a bit grim here and we had planned to go out but in fact spent the entire day indoors (apart from a visit my me at lunchtime to buy Hot Dogs at the Wurstel Stand opposite MAK).

I lit the fire before lunch and the cats took it in turns to bake themselves in front of it throughout the day. Cate read about the Habsburgs (this will be her subject on Mastermind) and I did some German and later in the evening watched the Peoria Ponies beat the Baltimore Ravens.

This was incidentally the Ponies 10th consecutive win this season and they are 10-0. I am not sure they are playing well enough to win the Championship but they should go close.

I also watched a couple of episodes of one of Rick Stein’s seafood shows (Cate doesn’t like him at ) and had a quick look at a reality show called Ace of Cakes - a cake shop in Baltimore.

Yes – it is indeed just as exciting as it sounds and – as the cake maker Duff Goldman puts it:

“It’s sort of the day-to-day craziness that happens in our bakery. It’s the pressure of getting the cakes done on time and getting them done well,” Goldman said. “There is no reality TV formula for this type of drama because we’re so deadline driven. The deadline is already here, and the drama is already here. We don’t have to fake stuff, it’s a very natural feeling show.”

I have high hopes for this show and the movie that will be made from it.

I see Harvey Keitel playing the part of Goldman, Steve Buscemi as the genius wedding-cake maker and Gwyneth Paltrow as the vacuous dough-maker who falls into the machine – is dismembered, baked and served up at the wedding of John Malkovich and Meryl Streep. (I don’t like Ms Paltrow and sometimes let my personal preferences influence my casting decisions – wrong I know but I saw Sliding Doors and something like that is almost impossible to forget).

So far we have had two visits from the Dishwasher repairman – at a cost of €260. The extent of the leak is now back to where it as before his first visit (It deteriorated dramatically between the first and second visits) and I consider this to be progress.

After all – this is Vienna – you can’t expect much for €260 – but I would be a smidge worried if the landlord was not paying. I calculate it will take two more visits and another €200 Euros to stop the leak. I will report.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Surprise Friday Blog for Merisi

You know I don’t usually Blog on Fridays – but today is an exception just because of the sheer joy of being in Wien in such brilliant weather.

Sissi just loves it and is bounding all over the house and did another runner this morning down the stairs when Cate was leaving for work.

One has to very careful when the doorbell rings – she goes out there at about 100 kph and usually goes down at least four flights of stairs – the record is six.

She is almost impossible to catch on the way out. Only one man has succeeded. I opened the door to two guys who had come to do something and Sissi bolted. As she hurtled past them - one of the men bent down and scooped her up. Poetry in motion. He was clearly an athlete.

It may have been Thierry Henry.

To celebrate Wien, life and cats I offer you some more Duck pictures (there have been discussions recently about Mallards and Ducks – I am of the view that if it looks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck – it is a Duck).

This has been confirmed by Maalie who says he is a Biologist and whose hero is Richard Dawkins – that’s good enough for me.

And a final word on Beetles

The following extracted from usenet; posted by Ken Cox.

God: And here’s the next species, one I’m
particularly proud of...

Adam: Beetle.

God: Excellent. Now here’s another...

Adam: Beetle.

God: No, you just named the last one “beetle”.
This one is quite different-look at the pattern on
the wing cases, and the shape of the antennae...

Adam: Beetle.

God: Well, OK, though they certainly look different
to Me. Now, the next species is-

Adam: Beetle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tom Cruise could do that job!

Steph slipped a video into her Blog and it has ruined my last 24 hours. This is revenge – watch at your peril Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom

It was sent to me by my son who sometimes has too much time on his hands.

The weather is just fabulous here at the moment and to celebrate this I took some photos from the Terrace of the Wien skyline. Where is the Katzenschutznet? I hear you ask. The answer is – still there – but I took these photos from the second Terrace which is netless – which means that we cannot leave the door open or Sissi would bound off into the distance.

You will be pleased to learn that the remaining tree on the Terrace (the first one died within a month) is still alive despite the ferocious attacks rendered on an almost daily basis by Sissi. It does not look well but in a mangled, scraggly way it is a picture of courage and tenacity.

It’s hard to describe – its looks like something that has been trapped in an elevator for three hours with Sarah Palin while she reads excerpts from her autobiography. I have provided a photo. I cannot imagine it surviving winter but will encourage it as much as I can from in front of the fire.

Merisi has suggested that I may have bought Horse meat at the Fleischerei. This makes sense – it certainly looks like it could be Horse meat (not that I am an expert). The cats are eating it. I have refrained thus far from asking them if they actually like Horse meat as I may be greeted with a resounding Nay (Groan!)

There are many things I don’t understand in this funny old world.

One that intrigues me is that Rupert Murdoch is cross with Google for what he says is ‘theft’ of the content of his newspapers. Rupert is developing a plan to make people pay for online content and is thinking of cutting off Google (which it is possible to do) from aggregating his content.

This makes sense – except that no sane person is going to pay for content unless there are really, really good reasons. For example, the Wall Street Journal has a model whereby subscribers pay for content – and the Journal is the ONLY newspaper in the world for which this model works.

Now if we accept that Rupert is a smart man – and he has made a lot of money by developing some of the very worst newspapers and TV stations in the world – what is his plan? Does he know something that no one else does? Is there a master tweak that can be made to the Internet that will suddenly have people clamouring to throw money at Rupert so that they can read the excruciatingly gruesome sludge that he turns out on a daily basis?

Or does he just not understand the Internet and that newspapers are doomed?

People apparently pay to watch the FOX news channel. I have trouble with this concept but it is apparently true. But then it’s not news – it’s entertainment. 70% of the content is opinion by far right wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Greta van Susteren and others. The ‘news’ itself is just a collection of dross such as car chases, drug-crazed celebrities, politicians with their pants down, two-headed goats and endless attacks on the Obama administration.

But you can understand people paying for it if they are of that particular persuasion. It panders to the Loony Right and tells them exactly what they want to hear. But these are people who believe in Creationism, have been abducted by aliens at least once, hate the government and just know that H1N1 vaccine is a means by which the Marxists in the White House can implant computer chips into their bodies.

This is not the audience for online content. Most of them – if they can read at all – will never do so online – and if they ever did will certainly never pay for it.

I am really keen to know what Rupert’s plan is. If anyone out there knows – please tell me.

Another thing I don’t understand is that Tom Cruise is coming to Salzburg and “hotel managers have promised him a private prayer room when he comes to the province this week. Sepp Schellhorn, head manager of the Hotel Seehof in Goldegg, Salzburg, said he would go as far as setting up a prayer room for the devout Scientologist to make his star guest happy”.

I’m guessing Sepp doesn’t know much about Scientology. Who does he think Tom would pray to? Is there a Head Thetan?

Not that I would deny Tom the right to do whatever he wants with his time, energy and money. His beliefs (if he actually holds them) are no crazier than those of many other people.

Being a cynic I sometimes think that Tom is a Scientologist because the more you pay the higher you can climb up the ladder to whatever it is at the top. I mean – do you think Tom would mess about with a bunch of Scientologists if he could be – say – the Archbishop of Canterbury by making a really sizable donation.

And by the way, I have seen the Archbishop of Canterbury being interviewed by Richard Dawkins – and believe me – Tom could do that job - and would great in the really cool hat.

Is it worth the risk?

Rathaus Christmas Markets

Good grief! It’s almost Christmas. How did that happen so quickly?

The Christmas markets started a few weeks ago and we will visit them soon. These are generally places where you can buy an amazing of array of arts and crafts - and of course masses of overpriced crap – but they do serve excellent alcoholic drinks and the lights are nice.

Unfortunately – as with everywhere else in Austria – you have to hack your way through dense clouds of smoke so it is impossible to linger. Cate and I will scuttle through a few of them just to have a look.

Still – as the Austrian smokers on various sites I visit say – “if you don’t want to experience smoke – don’t go where there are smokers”.

Sound advice indeed. Now let’s see – that leaves our apartment and the Flughafen – we might go there for Christmas and watch the planes taking off and landing.

As I said last year – it is an amazing sight for someone new to Europe to see a city lit up like Wien is at Christmas. Of course we are old hands now and this is our second Christmas – but we are really looking forward to it.

After my wood acquiring expeditions over the last few weeks Billy is just a mess and there is sawdust all over the place.

I can take him to my local Tankstelle (which is a few kilometers away) but the vacuum cleaner there is asthmatic and would not suck the skin off a rice pudding.

Theoretically I should be able to vacuum Billy in our garage – except that I have examined it from top to bottom on more than one occasion and there is no power outlet.

I just do not understand this. There are all sorts of motors and electrical boxes to drive the hoists – so what happens when they need to repair these. Or indeed – when they clean the garage as they do regularly – what do they use for power?

After pondering this problem for a while I have come up with a tentative solution. The garage is next to the Müllraum (rubbish room) which has a power point. I can run an extension lead from there along the footpath into the garage – a distance of about 15 metres.

I am now in the process of doing extensive risk analysis. This is important for me as I tend to bring out the worst in electrical things.

There are endless possibilities for electrocuting and/or incinerating dogs and children and I need to weigh these up against the benefits of having Billy clean again.

On balance I think it’s worth the risk so will probably have a go in a day or two. You may read about it in the Austrian Times buried amongst the other gruesome stories of the untimely demise of local citizens (for example this week “Cyclist's frenzied axe attack on pensioner”).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This is what happens to nitwits

Waiting for the Dive Boat - Palau 2008.
Cate has been hanging out to find a Thai restaurant and Melissa and I saw one a few weeks ago when we got lost in the wilds of the 1st district. It is not easy to get lost in the Innere Stadt but I managed.

Melissa and I were saved by the maps on my iPhone which contain a navigation system that shows you where you are.

Anyway – we found something called the Eco der city-thai Restaurant and Cate and I tested it on Saturday night – not bad at all – and non smoking.

On Monday I had one of my shopping expeditions from hell. These are rarer than they used to be but still occur when I lose the plot completely – as I did today.

I usually buy meat at Radatz in the markets in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse but they are a bit expensive and I had noticed a Fleischerei in Invalidenstrasse so thought I would give it a try.
I had initial success as they had my favourite meat for Gulaschesuppe – Mageres Meisel – for €7 per kilo – a lot less than either Spar or Radatz – so I bought 2 kilos.

Flushed with success I thought I would try to buy some Rump Steak and the whole business turned into a complete fiasco. The entire transaction was too gruesome to recount in detail but it will suffice to say that I finished up with 2 kilos of something – I know not what – that is certainly not Rump Steak – cut into large lumps. I very nearly ended up with 4 kilos.

Halfway through something that was clearly turning ugly I lost the ability to communicate in any language had had to stand their helplessly and watch a large lump of meat being carved up into slabs. I did manage to stop him before he also started carving up a second large lump of meat.

I just don’t know how such a simple transaction could go so badly off the rails – but I have had this sort of problem before when trying to buy 50 grams of Ham.

Inevitably the person serving starts to slice 500 grams and I have to shout ‘Ich hab 100 gram gemeint’ – looking like a complete Goose in the process because the person thinks I originally asked for 500 and now only want 100. I eventually learned from Rozalin that I should ask for ‘funf deka’ (for five decagrams).

It must be the way I say some things in German. Clearly something I said to the Fleischmeister set him off so I will have to be on guard next time.

On a happier note - the cats will be eating red meat this week instead of chicken and I am sure they will welcome the change.

I have plumbed new depths in accommodation booking. Attempting to book a hotel in Gallipoli, Turkey for our trip there in early December I managed to book a hotel in Gallipoli, Italy (yes apparently there are two).

This is a new low in the long and sordid history of my forays into accommodation booking.

I did – of course – make a booking on a non-refundable basis. I have sent begging emails but I am not confident that they will be prepared to refund money to someone who is clearly so stupid that they can’t book accommodation in the right country.

It would be nothing less than I deserve for being a nitwit.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is 350,000 different types of beetles excessive?

Sometimes I think god spent far too much time on insects at a significant cost to the effective operation of other species – for example – cats.

There are about 350,000 different types of beetles in the world (I don’t have an exact number because they keep finding new ones and there are so many you can’t really expect to get much closer than a ball park figure).

On the other hand – the brains of cats are very small – I would argue that in some cases they are too small to do the job required.

Now I am not suggesting that cats need to be much more highly developed than they are – I am merely suggesting a fairly modest increase in processing power.

For example – it would be useful if Muffin didn’t find stray socks in the middle of the night and drag them around the bedroom howling like a Banshee. Or if Sissi didn’t steal my small screwdriver when I am in the middle of a critical operation and push it under the large (and immovable) cupboard – or even if Monika could make more of an effort with finding the kitty litter – stuff like that – not a big ask surely.

Anyway my point is that is god had made a few less beetles and road-tested cats more thoroughly it would make my life now a bit easier.

Not that I am complaining about beetles mind you – they are bloody fantastic creatures – but also very dim. In Sydney the Christmas Beetles arrive in November and start crashing around the house at high speed – and they are almost indestructible and can bounce of walls undeterred. We don’t miss them at all.

But, after doing that for hours and driving the cats mad, they all fall into the cats’ water bowl and drown. What kind of sense does that make? Why make a bug that can survive a 100 kph collision with a wall – but can’t swim?

In fact there are about 800,000 different types of insects – does anyone else think that’s a bit excessive? And spiders? What’s the story here? It’s OK for you Austrians who have itty bitty spiders but in Australia we have spiders the size of golden retrievers that catch children and small animals in their webs and devour them.

The weather here is just delightful at the moment and I am having a lot of fun being out and about. Merisi has taken some brilliant photos in the park in the last few days (although she doesn’t appear to do many Duck photos and you will have to continue to rely on me for those).

We went to the Kuckuck on Friday night. This is a delightful little restaurant in Himmelpfortgasse – and is non smoking – which is important. The food was good and it’s not too expensive.

We sat next to an older American man and a young European woman – who talked so much that the man had finished his meal while she was on her second bite of her Wiener Schnitzel.

I expected that any moment the man would rise up and club her to death with his chair – in fact I would have been happy to help him – but Cate said she was a lawyer so should be spared.

Der Kuckuck

On Saturday we went to the Catacombs in Stephansdom – and saw some excellent coffins and ancient bones. This is where they keep the vital organs of the dead Habsburgs in alcohol in jars.

They did this not because they particularly wanted to but because they embalmed the bodies of the Habsburgs (these are in the Kaisergruft in Wien) and had to remove the …um….wobbly bits before they could fill the bodies with wax.

Then they had the leftovers and you know how hard these are to throw out - so they put them in jars in alcohol and stored them downstairs. This is of course much better than putting them in the back of the fridge where they could end up in the Easter Weekend hotpot.

They also entomb some lesser royalty and sundry priests and bishops in this place in iron coffins.

It is a bit grim down there and I have instructed Cate that in the event of my early demise I am not under any circumstances to be interred under Stephansdom (yes I know this is an unlikely scenario as I am not royalty or a senior member of the clergy in Wien but it’s always best to make sure that your wishes are known).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day.

These are photos of our trip to Villers-Bretonneux in 2005 to see the Australian memorial and cemeteries. My father’s brother – Matthew Herbert Prideaux - was killed at Pozières in July 1916 at age 20 – and my father never recovered from this.

Matthew’s body – like so many – was never found and lies forever in the soil of France.

It was a cold winters day when we visited – a suitable time to visit such a bleak place where so many Australians died so long ago. We were the only visitors and left flowers and his photo at the memorial.

In the Village there is a ‘Kangourou Café’ and a sign on the local school says “N'oublions jamais l'Australie."

There are local young people in the villages in the Somme dedicated to the memory of the Australian sacrifice and major ceremonies are held each year on Anzac day. We will go – maybe next year.


There is a carpet shop on the corner of Ungargasse and our street, Beatrixgasse, that sells oriental carpets. Well – they are advertised as oriental carpets but could well be made in Bulgaria. This does not mean that they are not of oriental design mind you it’s just that my cynical outlook prompts me to doubt their provenance.

Since we have been here – now 14 months – there has been a big sign in the window advertising a 60% reduction. I imagine it has been there since the shop opened.

On the opposite corner is the house where Beethoven finished his 9th Symphony. I can imagine the composer gazing at the shop and thinking ‘Sweet Baby Jesus – as soon as I finish this damn thing I am going to get me one of those – what a bargain – I wonder if I can get a composer’s discount?’

Cate and I have wanted to buy an oriental carpet for a while but have not done so in the certain knowledge that it would probably not really be oriental and would be destroyed by the cats. The existing rug looks like it has been used by a Taliban motorcycle repairman in his workshop.

The cats do everything on it – and I mean everything.

A man from West Africa accosted me in Beatrixgasse today (just near the carpet shop) and said that his children were starving. He showed me photos. They didn’t look undernourished but they may have been old photos.

I said I couldn’t spare much and told him that I had recently had to pay €15 to save a woman from three bad men and that I hoped he would understand. I gave him her address and said that I had moved on but if he wanted to collect the €15 he was more than welcome.

The industry to be in would be manufacturing those half crutches the professional beggars use. They were out in their droves today and I am surprised that they don’t crash into each other. There must be begging boundaries so that they don’t overreach themselves.

Because they lean over so far they probably go round in circles but I have checked and they all use the crutches with their right hands – so will all be going in the same direction. To avoid confusion they go up on the left side of Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse and done on the right side.

For the first time ever I saw someone give a half-crutch beggar money. He was clearly a local workman and I just don’t understand what he was thinking. He was clearly such a soft touch I was going to tell him that I needed €15 to escape from three bad women.

For a long time the Australian government has been unhappy about people killing themselves. They consider that it is their responsibility to do this by starving pensioners to death or killing them in hospitals and nursing homes. (This is a NSW government specialty and they have probably patented it).

What they really hate is euthanasia. They hate this so much that some time ago they passed laws making it illegal to discuss euthanasia on the telephone or by email. They are of course approaching this from the perspective of religious belief. One must die in agony because their invisible friend considers it appropriate.

Philip Nitschke is an Australian crusader for the right of terminally ill people to take their own lives. Naturally he has been hounded every step of the way and every time a poor sod manages to kill his or her self Philip is a target. I am prompted to write this because of another raid by police on his organization’s offices.

You would really think that governments and religious organizations would have better things to do that to try to stop terminally ill people from taking their own lives so that they don’t die in agony.

I mean there are still a very few things that the Federal and State governments combined haven’t stuffed completely and for all time – can't they focus on those and let us die in peace?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I prefer slices to dices

Monika now (as a Tubster) and when she was a new mother.

I have made two sensational meals this week. One I have called ‘3 Bad Men Pasta’ on the basis that it cost about €15 to make. It is a Pasta dish and the recipe is:

Penne Pasta
3 Peppers/Paprikas (Yellow/Red/Orange) – thinly sliced
I Red Onion – finely sliced
2 Cloves Garlic
100 Grams Chorizo Salami
150 Grams Black Pepper Salami
10 Sun Dried Tomatoes - sliced
1 Small Bunch Rucola
Olive Oil

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add onion and garlic.
Fry until onion is soft and brown.
Add peppers and fry until soft.
Add both salamis and cook for about 5 minutes
Mix in Rucola and sun dried tomatoes
Combine with cooked pasta and mix well

I find that it is enhanced by a sprinkling of Parmigiano with Peppercorns. (This is such a fantastic cheese – but very expensive even though they make it practically next door. And incidentally – all the cats love Parmigiano- but without peppercorns).

Cate says the Salami should be diced – not sliced – but I am not prepared to compromise on this one as you don’t get the same flavour with dices as you do with slices.

This one will certainly find its way into my Recipe Book. The other one was “Viennese Pepper Hotpot” and is a ripper. I will give you the recipe later.

I should add that I don’t measure anything at all and it is all done by feel. This works for me because I am just a natural born chef but you out there are basically on your own with the quantities of ingredients.

This may be a drawback when I come to publish my book but I will get someone like Nigella Lawson to help me.

Since they arrived here both Monika and Sissi have rarely ever meowed. There has just been an occasional squeak.

Over the last two days Sissi has started meowing a lot and we thought she had found her voice. It appears however that she has just reached that level of maturity in cats that makes them think about fooling about with cats of the opposite sex.

(Hmm.....six months old....about the same age as the average guy starts thinking about it!)

She certainly has a touch of the Paris Hiltons about her at the moment and spends a lot of time crawling along on her tummy with her bum in the air.

I have spoke to the vet and I am to call her in a week so that we can book Sissi in for the appropriate action.

I provide the following article from the Austrian Times and ask you to think about the sentence “More than 50,000 people will be hospitalised in skiing accidents on Austria’s slopes this season”.

Jumping Jehoshaphat – that’s more on an annualized basis – and after allowing for population sizes, than are killed and injured in the USA each year by guns (That number is 100,000).

More than 50,000 serious injuries expected on slopes
By William Green

More than 50,000 people will be hospitalised in skiing accidents on Austria’s slopes this season, safety experts have predicted.

The Committee for Traffic Safety (KfV) said today (Tues) it expected 56,000 of the nine to 10 million people who will ski in Austria this winter season will end up in hospital.

The KfV added there had been 58,100 people severely injured during the last winter season.

KfV said every second badly-injured skier and every third seriously-injured snowboarder had suffered broken bones last year, and 32 per cent of injured skiers and 17 per cent of injured snowboarders had suffered muscle or tendon injuries.

Knee injuries were most common among skiers (26 per cent), and wrist injuries among snowboarders (17 per cent), KfV added.

Anton Dunzendorfer, the head of KfV’s home, leisure-time and sports division, said: "More than a quarter of accidents are the result of excessive speed and risk-taking."

He said people headed for the slopes for the first time this season should be calm, choose a ski area appropriate for their ability, warm up and take numerous short breaks.

That’s it BE CALM! You have somehow found yourself on the Black Run. You speed has increased to 105 kph. Remain Calm. Lean over as far as you can – put your head between your legs – think about the Austrian Health System - kiss your ass goodbye!

Anton Dunzendorfer?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do we have enough owls?

Monday was an absolutely glorious day in Wien. It was almost balmy and the sun was shining, birds singing, ducks quacking etc. I went on a fruitless search to get a particular type of Chanel lipstick for Cate but it was – surprise – not available here. Or indeed anywhere – a search of the Internet revealed that they no longer make this particular type.

The workmen have almost finished repaving the Graben and Kärntnerstrasse and it looks really good.

The Christmas decorations are being erected and I guess it won’t be too long before the lights go on. There will be an official ‘light switching on’ day just as there is a ‘start of Christmas tree selling’ day and we will find out what this is in due course. It’s time to do a stock take and find out if we have enough Christmas decorations – including owls and hedgehogs etc.

We did buy some Polar Bears (for some reason this spell winter for us here even though we are a zillions miles from the nearest Polar Bear) and of course I will let you have pictures as soon as the bears go on display.

The problem with buying real wood is that is very…..well…..woody. It comes in 13 kilo bags and leaves a trail of dust and splinters behind it. I can only fit 10 bags in Billy and can only take 2 of these on Dolly at each time. Which makes 5 trips to get 10 bags of wood into the apartment. And the whole load is only enough for about 4 nights because real word burns like…well….wood.

Sushi rolls are much better. They are easier to handle and carry around, they burn for longer, are a whole lot cheaper and make almost no mess. Cate unfortunately likes real wood so I have to have some to start the fires off and then I can throw Sushi rolls on when she is not looking.

The cats don’t mind much what is on the fire so they are much easier to please. Muffin and Sissi are now almost friends and often touch noses. They met on the stairs recently and Muffin starting licking Sissi’s ears. Good Grief!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bad men problem solved for €15

I have not fixed the dishwasher after all and have had to call for reinforcements. I have stemmed the flow somewhat and can wash dishes if I put a large towel underneath the dishwasher door.

Cate arrived back from India on Saturday at the crack of dawn and is not going away again for weeks. She has to go to Istanbul in December and we have decided that I will go with her and we will spend a few days mooching about - and also go to Gallipoli.

We walked through Stadtpark on Saturday night and there was a cat stalking the ducks. I assume it was feral cat as cat owners are not likely to let their cats roam the streets.

Now I understand where all the baby ducks went this year. One day there were hordes then just a few bobbing about with their mothers.

There must be local agency that attends to feral animals. Merisi?

On Sunday night a woman came to the door and said that she lived in an apartment downstairs and needed to borrow €15 because she was in danger from three bad men. She said her mother would come by and return the money in half an hour.

I thought it was such a good story that made absolutely no sense at all that it would have been churlish of me to refuse – so I gave her the money.

Cate wondered why I did this but I pointed out that €15 to save a lady from three bad men was not such a bad investment – I mean it’s only €5 per man. But what sort of bad men problem can be solved with the amount of money? They are probably from Eastern Europe and just don’t know yet how expensive Vienna is.

Cate asked me a lot of questions about the woman and why she needed the money (Cate didn’t believe the bad men story) and why €15. This is a good point – what can you do in Vienna on a Sunday night with €15? Nothing is open and if it was you wouldn’t get much for that amount of money.

The most exciting thing about the transaction was that Sissi escaped and hurtled down six flights of steps in a (failed) bid for freedom and was taken back upstairs in the elevator (to avoid any bad men on the stairs)

I just don’t understand many of the weird things that happen to me and just have to let them wash over me.

And another thing. The gunman at Fort Hood in the USA was shot (finally) by a police officer from the local police force. This was on a army base. Aren’t they supposed to have guns there? If they don’t have guns at Fort Hood it would be the only place like that in Texas. If this dude had tried this in the local shopping centre he would have been filled full of lead in seconds.

Now – if that woman’s mother would pop by with the €15 I can go shopping.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Looks like an empty baked bean box to me

Melissa and I went to MAK – which is the design museum in Vienna – and just across from Stadtpark which is good for Melissa who turns blue after 2 minutes outside. She is definitely the wrong sort of person for Europe and should live in somewhere like Morocco.

Anyway MAK is quite wonderful – and has the most stunning collection of chairs I have ever seen. It also has lots of my favourite things – like lace and crockery. (Ugh!).

The best part of the exhibitions is the descriptions that the artists give of their work.

What to me is a empty baked bean box turns out to be a post-modern representation of life in a modern Gulag in which workers are imprisoned in cubicles with fluorescent lighting and where they are verbally beaten by neo-imperialist guards. The open flaps of the box represent the only escape but cannot be reached by the workers unless they band together to build the way out - but their essential intellectual shallowness makes this impossible because of the crushing emptiness of their lives and the worry about what is out there. The empty tin in the bottom of the box may be the shrugged off shell of a single escapee who now runs a deck chair rental shop on the beach on the Costa del Sol – or it may be an empty tin.

The dishwasher started leaking so I attempted to fix it by removing, cleaning and replacing the seal. After an hour or so with the mop and bucket I had another go which was much more successful. I have told Herr Dorfelmutzer downstairs that I am sure that his insurance will cover most of the damage but not to put his Dachshund on the balcony while it is wet because it is too cold out there and Fritzi will ice up.

News day and back to one of my old favourites (groan) smoking. The Austrian Times reports that, according to a Vienna Doctor - Austria has the highest percentage of 15-year-old smokers in Europe - a staggering 25%.

It is an interesting article so I will quote it in full (mainly because I don’t have anything else to write about).

“Manfred Neuberger, the head of the preventive-medicine division at Vienna Medical University, added today (Weds) that the number of Austrian youth who smoked had been steadily increasing since 1997 and that 145,891 Austrians aged 11 to 17 smoked.

Noting the average age at which young people began smoking had fallen to 11, he said: "The younger one begins, the worse the consequences will be."

Neuberger claimed the government had been doing too little to get young people not to smoke. "It is easier to buy cigarettes than groceries," he said, adding the government should use the 60 million Euros in cigarette taxes that young smokers paid annually to pay for a campaign of prevention of smoking.

He called protection of non-smokers in Austria "a health and political time bomb" and said the country was on the level of the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Albania and Serbia in that regard.

The doctor cited polls in Styria and Upper Austria that had shown 91 per cent of people who visited nightspots felt harmed by secondary smoke and 60 per cent of them wanted the law on smoking toughened.

Tamas Fazekas from Vienna’s St. Anna Children’s Hospital called for "an absolute ban on smoking in public areas. We are already finding illnesses in children that previously occurred only in adults." She warned that pregnant women’s exposure to secondary smoke could lead to premature births and development of asthma in young children.

She also claimed exposure of children to secondary smoke made it more likely they would start smoking and noted 80 per cent of children of smokers became smokers themselves.

"We need to make it clear to adults that nicotine is not only a poison that harms children but that they also need to set a good example by not smoking," she added.

The doctors’ announcements came on the occasion of an event promoting the EU campaign "HELP – For a Smoke-Free Life" in Vienna. The campaign featured more than 300 events in all 27 EU member states today”.

I laughed out loud at the last sentence. This place is poisonous – it is impossible to escape the smoke.

Melissa and I had lunch in Pizzeria Grado. Six tables were occupied and there were smokers at four of them. In our favourite Fish Restaurant - Dalmatia – last Friday night there were smokers all around us and a cigar smoking woman behind us. Given half a chance in restaurants Austrians would probably light their own farts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shoot the Jockey - not the Horse.

We awoke this morning to snow. It is not heavy snow – more the diet version - and it is not accumulating on the terrace but vanishes as soon as it arrives. But it is snow nevertheless and we are pleased to see it. And it has been snowing all day.

And - in answer to Merisi's question. We Love it! We are cold weather people and just adore winter. The colder the better - bring on snow and sleet!

Sissi is not sure about it at all. She made a trip to investigate and ate a few very small flakes but did not stay long enough to immerse herself in the experience. Monika watched from a distance and was not about to go out on the terrace under any circumstances.

Today I opened up the online version of the Sydney Morning Herald and saw to my delight that I had completely missed a thing about Australia that I hate - the Melbourne Cup.

One of the best things about being in Vienna is not being in Australia for the Melbourne Cup.

For those of you who may not be aware of the Melbourne Cup – it is a horse race. Horse racing is an Australian media-driven obsession – to the extent that some years ago a horse trainer won an Australian “Sportsman of the Year” Award.

The Melbourne Cup is a horse race which the media has turned into a ghastly, frothing, dribbling extravaganza of gruesome schlock which starts weeks before the event and culminates in an orgy of gambling, alcohol and public displays which on a normal day would merit public floggings or prison sentences.

On race day there are live broadcasts ALL DAY by TV and Radio from the racecourse. There are Melbourne Cup lunches at which people get dressed up like drug crazed pimps and where they drink alcohol until they fall unconscious head first into their Pavlovas.

Women at the race get dressed up in funny clothes and hats. Poor tortured tarts with gigantic heels, grotesque hats and tits everywhere totter around the grounds and the bars displaying hats that look like they were designed by Edvard Munch on his second bottle of Absinthe.

People get blind staggering drunk all over Australia and especially at the racecourse and make complete asses of themselves on TV. People queue for hours to bet on horses. There are obligatory office sweeps where you choose a horse out of a hat.

At race time the nation stops and EVERYONE has to watch this gruesome spectacle – which last for about three minutes.

And in the end – a brown horse wins the race. The trainer is a hero and gets a prize, the jockey is a hero and gets a prize, the strapper is a hero and gets a bonus. The owner is a hero and gets a prize. The horse….well the horse gets nothing except perhaps an extra helping of oats – which is much better than if it falls over an breaks a leg – because then they shoot it.

I would change the rules. If the horse falls over and breaks a leg they put the horse in traction and shoot both the jockey and the owner. This would encourage greater horse care. Horses wearing Ugg boots would be walked gingerly around the tracks by the jockeys. No one would mind that - the added bonus would be that the races would go for much longer – probably 30 minutes. More time for alcohol, stripping naked and vomiting on the grass.

For me it was the single worst day of the year – every year. It is singly and uniquely the most fruitless, pointless, shudderingly grisly awful waste of time and energy in the entire history of humanity.

But then I am just a curmudgeon so don’t listen to me.

The Austrians don’t seem to care much about horses – which is just fine with me. Now if they would just stop smoking in restaurants when I am eating we would get on just fine – oh and also don’t let your dogs shit in my street – is that too much to ask? Oh and one more thing – don’t shout at me when I get stuck in an intersection and can’t find reverse – believe me when I say I did not do it on purpose, don’t want to be there and am doing my best to leave.

I tested my new lens in Stadtpark on Friday and got what (for me) are some special shots. Now either the lens is making a difference or I have suddenly developed an ability with a camera that has hitherto escaped me (and this is very unlikely).

Naturally my pictures are mainly of ducks and Cate has suggested that I do a Duck Calendar for 2010.

This is an excellent idea – but for the purposes of authenticity I will have to get the Ducks in season so it will take me a year to complete it – not that I am in no hurry. The Ducks in the photo are in the running for October Duck of the Month.

Incidentally – we walked through Stadtpark today and there are hordes of Ducks – plus a large number of Seagulls (or more probably – Lakegulls). There was also a Zeisel in Ungargasse which I haven’t seen there before – but it must be that time of year – although they don’t like the snow at all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Friedhof Der Namenlosen

Click to Embigiate (thanks Steph)

Melissa and I went to the Friedhof Der Namenlosen (Cemetery of the Nameless Ones) at Albern Hafen on the outskirts of Wien – next to the Donau. It is tiny and mainly comprises graves of unknown people who were washed up on the shores of the Danube.

There are a few people who have grave markers but most are lost souls who died watery and unremarked deaths many long years ago.

It is a bit remote – and was very bleak - and is apparently rarely visited except on the first Sunday after All Saints’ Day – which happened to be Sunday - so there were hordes of people there (well - at least 10). The graves had been attended to and candles were lit.

It is a not a place I would choose to be buried – but if you drown and get washed up on the banks of the Danube and can’t be identified then I guess you have to take your chances.

It was finally time to take Billy in for repairs.

If you want to meet some friendly Austrians don’t bother going to the Information Counter in the Wiesenthal Mercedes dealership in Wien. There are none there.

None of the three people at the counter had heard of Herr Schnauser - the man with whom I had an appointment - but after sending me to see someone else – who sent me back to them – they said I would have to wait for half an hour.

For what? I asked. I have an appointment with someone unknown to you – why should I wait?

Our relationship deteriorated after this but - following an exhaustive search of the building – we discovered the culprit at the next desk – about 3 metres away. he was carefully disguised in a Wiesenthal uniform so it’s no wonder he was practically invisible.

Herr Schnauser was very helpful and got me to sign many papers before he took Billy away for repairs. Herr Schnauser then introduced me to Herr Gritzmeister who has a cousin in Melbourne. Herr Gritzmeister asked me to sign many more forms and gave me the keys to a very, very small car with manual transmission.
This proved to be a Smart Car. It turned out to be a lot smarter than the driver.

My first act was to get stuck in the middle of a very busy intersection with no way forward – and the inability to find reverse. Fortunately Austrian motorists are unfailingly polite and helpful and made encouraging noises and signs.

One man started to get out of his car – he was apparently coming over to help me find reverse – or perhaps mop my brow - but I managed on my own and we all relaxed. Well – most of us – I couldn’t get my portable navigation system to work and had to feel my way home - but made it eventually.

Melissa and I had lunch at Cafe Diglas today and I inspected the toilet. The door is in working order and turns opaque when you lock it. Provided you follow this simple procedure you can wear any underpants you like.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Don't forget to push the button before you sit down

Let’s get one thing straight Merisi. I don’t usually Blog on Fridays. This only happens when the burdens of my busy and exciting life prevent me from Blogging on Thursdays. I am a member of the Am Heumarkt Bloggers Cooperative and our rules prevent us from doing more than four Blogs each week.

As much as I love what you do I don’t hound you with comments about doing more – and – for example - asking for more pictures of cats. I accept that you are an artist and need to be in a creative mood – and just can’t turn this on like a tap.

Merisi's Blog

You could argue of course that I just sit down and write the first thing that comes into my head – and this is largely true – except that sometimes it is the second thing. And – given the quality of the work recently – I just can’t imagine why any readers want more.

I noted with some horror last week that I have written more than 250 Blogs. Leaping Lizards!

Cate and Melissa and I went to the Leopold Museum on Saturday. We saw exhibitions of the work of Edvard Much and Egon Schiele. These were both men who very obviously had very unsatisfactory childhoods and carried this with them for a long time.

Well not so long in the case of Egon Schiele because he died in 1918 of the Spanish Flu at the age of 28 so who knows what he could have achieved had he lived to the same age as Munch (81). Seeing a just small part of what Edvard Munch could do in 81 years was a bit scary.

I quite liked the work of Schiele because I could come to grips with it but Munch was a bit to Unheimliche for me. This word – which translates as ‘uncanny’ is used to describe the work in the exhibition. I think a better word is ‘strange’.

Cate and Melissa loved it. I am in two minds. One mind thinks that Schiele was a genius and the other one thinks that on many occasions he was just having a really bad time and wanted to knock out another painting to pay the rent. But in terms of expressionism I am a Philistine. I just don’t get a lot of it.

For lunch on Saturday we went to Café Diglas in the Wollzeile – which is a 10 minute walk for us across Stadtpark. Cage Diglas has been there since 1875 and they have sensational Gulasche Suppe.

They also have these toilet cubicles with transparent glass doors so that you can see whether or not they are occupied. When you go in and close the door behind you – and push the appropriate button - the door turns opaque.

Of course if you go in and don’t push the button then everyone outside can see what you are doing. Which is what happened to this unfortunate man on Saturday when I was in there – and doubly unfortunately he had dressed in the dark and mistakenly put on his Grandmother’s underpants.

It was a ghastly show and attracted quite a crowd. It is not intended to be seen by other people - and I wish I hadn't. 

Cate has gone to India where it will be absolutely sweltering. She was not looking forward to the trip because it will be a hard slog for week with endless meetings. She is going to try to get to the Taj Mahal before she comes home. I think she will have had enough by Friday and will grab Ben and flee back to Wien.