Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday: Water

I know, I did excuse myself from this Friday's Shootout, due to the fact that I have no pictures of water whatsoever stocked in my computer, no time to go out and take any, and I'm spending the day (elongated by 7 hours time difference) in planes and airports. But what's there to do in Newark Airport for four hours other than have a $11 glass of pinot grigio and mess around on the web?
So I'll just tell you about water.
I did start this blog as a writing thing, after all. Can't let the pictures take it over entirely.
Water in a way shaped my life. It was a significant part of my learning the value of things, as a listener-in of long conversations (or were they rants? did anyone else get a word in?) in my grandfather's house. He lived in Valley Center, California, a 45-minute drive north from our home in suburban San Diego. As a grower of oranges and avocados in that high desert region, migrant workers and water were the topics of choice.
The cost of water. Scandalous. Breaking the backs of hard-working men.
I heard so much about the scarcity of water and how its price was driving honest growers to ruin, that I never understood toothpaste commercials. (you can see here I've finished that glass of wine.)
Really. Every toothpaste commercial on tv, and even tv shows not particularly selling dental hygene, showed smiling, white-toothed people brushing in front of the mirror with the water running.
Why on earth run water down the sink for absolutely no reason while brushing your teeth?
We never did that in my house.
We didn't water the lawn, either. We replaced the front lawn with a field of rocks, from which we picked debris and dead leaves once a year or so in a despised, but much needed day.
And then as a teenager, driving past miles and miles of cotton fields on our way to backpacking in the mountains or along the Colorado. Absolutely horrified to learn that those farmers in the middle of the desert got their water practically free because of government subsidies sucking the river so dry that it hasn't reached the sea for decades now, and the hungry Mexicans who would like to be able to use its water to grow their own crops are just s*** out of luck. Meanwhile, poor countries desperate to sell their cotton because it's all they have, they can't get a decent price because the market is flooded with falsely cheap California product.
I bet it's still that way today.
Another load of brick in the making of a liberal.
The difference water can make was the first thing I noticed in moving to Minneapolis. What was all this green? And it stuck around all summer! Those people, they don't worry about running the faucet while brushing their teeth. They don't circle around the water bill over coffee in the evening. (Well, being Minnesotans, maybe they do.)
Nor do they where I live now in central France. The hills are green and water is everywhere. It fell from the sky in such abundance a particular week last year it ruined most of my cherry crop. Not so far south of here it's more like California - crops sucking up what there is, demanding ever more; fires racing through the hills regularly.
Water is a funny thing. Abundant here, rare just next door, existing in endless quantities just next door again but so salty as to be useless to us.
A question of distribution we have yet to solve. A question of value and price we need to address more honestly and fairly.
So that's my thing about water.

Flaking on Friday

Sorry folks, no Friday Shoot Out for me. I'm spending the day on planes, planes and planes.
Though soon I will be in Arkansas!
And then Mississippi!
And then Alabama!
why on earth...???

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Will we ever come to the end of Vienna?

Yes, sadly, we will, though not until tomorrow. But don't worry - then I'll go somewhere else and take assorted pictures of somewhere completely different, like, say, Auvergne, Arkansas. Or Florence, Mississippi.So what are the Viennese up to on a Sunday? Lots of things! They're out and around all over the place. They're here in the main square around St Stephen's cathedral, having an ice cream from one of the many, many Eis Cafés.
The tourists are shelling out 95€ an hour to take a caléche ride around town. Divided among four passengers, that's not as outrageous as it seems. And the line of horses moves up slowly - I'd guess a driver waits a good hour to get to the top of the line, at least now in the off-season.
Real Viennese are paddling boats around in the Danube. The banks of the Danube here are actually quite dull. I didn't see any trucks on the road on Sunday, or any freight on the river. In France, trucks are forbidden from the roads on Sundays - that's probably the case here too. It does make for a more enjoyable day.
The one category of working boat in operation on this Day of Rest.
Obligatory swans. Where were they when I was across the way, looking toward the old city, rather than the could-be-anywhere office tower skyline?
Back on the west side of the river, there was some kind of fair going on in front of the Ratshaus, the showpiece of the cluster of government buildings.
The music was all-American covers.
The most fun thing I saw was that in the many parks there were lots of sandboxes for playing in. Including in front of the Ratshaus, where the pile of cobbles meant to repair part of the walkway was turned into a play space. You could make a fair castle with that pile!

For the truly silly pictures, head over to Pink Rabbit Abroad.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vienna: butterflies and music

Some story to go with your pictures.

Vienna being the city of music, I did get to a concert. Plus there was music at random, in parks and subway stations and streetcorners, being offered up by people trying to get by. Concerts in the grand opera started at 50$; Mozart's Magic Flute at the Peoples' Opera House was more affordable, but sold out, alas. But I happened on a presentation by current and former students of the Ljubljana University School of Music, being held at St Peter's Church downtown.

The setting was astounding; a baroque church (a church has been on the site since 400 AD now, but the current version is not so venerable) fully decorated inside. St Peter's is small and intimate. The organ music thrummed through the stone floors and wooden pews, coming up through the kneelers as well as through the air. The Gregorian chanting that separated the organ pieces filled the air.
We started with some traditional works, working our way toward more modern sacred music. The fugues and sonatas were sublime, the audience listening with eyes closed to the ornately gilded surroundings. And then, on to two 20th century works.

Aïe! Aïe aïe aïe!
The "Apparition of the Eternal Church" sounded more like a soundtrack rejected from a 1970's B- horror flick. This travesty, sadly, was followed by worse, an atonal mess better left unheard. This was the last piece, and about half the audience left before it was over. Including me. I felt badly about that, especially since the musicians would be coming out from the hidden choir area above to greet the audience later.

So that was my exposure to music in Vienna. Hit & miss, but I'm glad to have gone and experienced it.
I've got one last batch of pictures for you, but my flight is boarding so that will be for tomorrow.

More of Vienna

There's so much to see that sometimes you just have to sit down and sort it all out.
Three of the army of concert ticket sellers
There are so many cafés on busy sidewalks and hidden plazas that there's always a spot to be found, whether quiet or crowded.
Metro stop and café by the park.
A spot of Barcelona in Austria.

One of the many palaces dishing up music nightly.

The best way to get around town! I like the antique cars with their butt-polished wooden seats. You get to see most everything, and the 24-hour pass is only 5€. So go for it! Get on, get off, get on again. They run every few minutes.

A couple of ads, poorly photographed behind their glass protection. I could speak German if I had another month to spend here, but today I don't need to to laugh at the polo-donkey and hunting parakeet.

I actually rather liked the zones of dense, colorful graffiti. This wall continues for some kilometers along the Danube, and parts of it are excellent.
One thing I love about foreign languages is that there's always something inadvertantly funny being posted in broad daylight. Like Farting. Here in the amusement park there seems to be a 2€ fine for farting, though for the truly flatulent there's the discount rate of 6 for 10€.
One of the very many monuments to musicians, composers, and dancers all around the city.
Warning to all joggers: Large Dogs in the Path Alert!
Large dogs still in the path. Joggers chased: 0. Dogs disturbed: 0. All is at peace in the world.

Now there's a reason to get to the airport early - the wifi is free! Let's see if it'll upload pictures more quickly than the lame-but-costly hotel version.
Enough for now, but once I pass airside I'll try to finish.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Still in Vienna

The Russian Orthodox Church.
The most impressive architecture in Europe is always in the churches and the government buildings. So here's a series of churches and chapels. There are so many to choose from!

Lots of buildings are decorated with scuptural touches. This, I believe, is meant to be a chicken.
Neat doorknocker.
And a neat door.
Gotta have lions.
And women holding up the world.
And more lions
I hope the global resistance people plan their actions better than their graffiti.
There's chariot racing on the roof of Parliament.
From a different angle, one wonders about some of the more recent decorative additions.
Gotta go; my internet time is up. More tomorrow, I hope, and I've got some good ones, so stay tuned!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Exploring Vienna

Getting to Vienna was pretty straightforward. The flight over the Alps in the rapidly sinking evening sun was spectacular. They didn't lose my luggage (which I hadn't planned to check, but there was an excess of shampoo). I exited the Vienna airport just in time to see that the train to the city was leaving in 25 minutes. May as well relax.

From the station to my hotel, the instructions were clear: take the S-bahn train number 7 to Praterstern, from where you can walk or take a bus two stops. With the entire city block where the airport train stops being under construction, it took me 15 minutes just to find the S-bahn entrance. Lots of trains on the board, but no number 7's. Too late. If I'd known that it went to exactly the same place, just more slowly, I would have hopped on the tram just outside. But I didn't know that, so I took a taxi.
The Austrians have that germanic maniacal attention to detail. They have fabulous maps. There's the detailed map of the area. Alas, it only gets you about two blocks. There's the map of the whole city. Alas, the entire city is on it, in the least detail, on a very modestly sized poster: the overwhelming amount of infomation present (aside from the notably absent "You Are Here" target) means that all of it is useless.

Continuing the attention to detail theme, Vienna is a very neat and clean city. They recycle a lot, and large bins are present on many streetcorners. Here's a bunch. There's a bin for paper, one for glass, one for plastic, etcetera. The sign warns you about what not to discard there. No dumping of green monsters here! No tires, mattresses, washing machines, and No Green Monsters.
In green spaces large and small there are signs to pick up after your dog. The usual sign asks if you think those are sausages.
In the park I spent the morning exploring not even half of, there are zones of different dog-acceptability. This markes a No Dogs at All area. Other areas are either Leash or No Leash zones. Everywhere is a No Dog-Sausage zone.

Just to wrap up the neatness theme, in the park everything is just so, and then there was this pile of disorder. They did what they could and roped it off, so it wouldn't contaminate the passing public.

Pretty pictures on tomorrow's post!