Thursday, October 11, 2012

On Windows

        Something I come to value from living abroad is the sensation of riding in cars.  Here my choices are limited to public transportation: always the U-Bahn or Stra╬▓en Bahn, maybe a bus on occasion.  Gets you from point A to point B.   Crowded, stressful, easy, cheap, efficient, sight-less travel.  You spend so much time under the pavement that by the time you’re at your destination, you realize that you’re completely disoriented.  I lose my sense of direction in Vienna a lot, and not just because everything is shaped in circles rather than squares.  So I’ve come to somewhat miss the American car culture and the feeling of riding on an open road, direction to my own discretion.

 The city of Melk, on the way to Krems.

            The last two weekends I’ve embarked on school-sponsored trips to different areas of Austria.   Perhaps part of the reason I haven’t been blogging so much as late, and then the other part is the sheer heaviness of school work on my motivation.  Anyway, I found myself on a series of bus trips, each of which was more or less 2 hours one way.  First, along the Danube to Krems, and second into wine country and Graz. 

            Both were unspeakably beautiful.  Not just the cities, but the country in between.  On one hand, the blue Danube (for which many songs have been named) which stretches widely through scenic villages, still touched with the hand of old-world architecture and littered with baskets of flowers.  On the other hand, the Austrian Alps, high and heavy and in the morning, sheathed in a thick fog that ebbs between spread-out mountain farms.

 The alps, from a bus window, shortly after the fog
cleared and the morning sun could come through.

            Riding on a bus, I found myself unable to part from my prime window seat views.  In the Midwest, I’m so used to corn field after cornfield, flat land, and sometimes a forest or lake which, in the end, is more or less just as flat.  Austria is something entirely different. 

I quickly came to realize that I spend hardly enough time just staring out windows.  My iPod and Kindle were either dead or just plain comparatively un-interesting when it came to looking out.  With no music to distract me and new sights around each passing hill or valley, I spent some good time really thinking, and it was so refreshing.

 Wine country.  Honestly this is one of my favorite pictures
I've taken yet.  Side note- I've used up at least an entire
memory card at this point.

The second strange realization I came to was a recurrent thought provided a new context.  It may seem silly, but when viewing scenery in the States, I would often have the thought “I wonder what the natives thought of this.  How beautiful!  Driving past the Alps, the thought came again and I realized that here it has no context.  In a sense, there were never real natives here, unless you count the people still living in Austria as natives.  How strange. 

In an invaded and discovered-settled-then-settled-again background culture like America, removing me from my reactions to scenery by supposing the thoughts of a native is natural.  Here, the thought makes no sense.  European culture transcends nativity, people have been living here and settling here since time before the land we now call America was even known to exist.  What is one to think except for: “How beautiful!

I  find it a simple perception change, really, but one that I value.  Through my American eyes, I can see things in a different light than anyone here, but in a sense, I will always see it as a foreigner.  Even walking the streets of Vienna at night, the way that cheap street lamps light up the side streets and dead storefronts is amazing to me.  I tried explaining to some of my Austrian students this sense of awe that comes in waves.   I hope it never disappears.  And I want them to feel it someday, too.

 One of the many back alleyways in Graz.

Partially because I’m forced to and partially because it was inevitable, I speak with more and more Austrians every day.  Most of the time it’s because I’m teaching a class (which is going great; much better than my expectations could have told me) and the rest of the time it’s just because I’m getting comfortable improvising in German.  I love hearing what they have to say about Americans and Austrians, comparing notes on the two cultures and other cultures as well.  Talking about things like politics in an intensely neutral way while art discussion more often becomes heated.

Every day, in every conversation, I try to savor the concept of looking out a window.  Not just looking, but observing.  Seeing and thinking about and feeling the moments as they pass by.  Enjoying them because in a sense they all are beautiful.  It’s something I’d like to impart with everyone I meet.  Contemplate out the window.    I want to put it on an existential t-shirt.

Taken by a friend - Me at Sch├Ânbrunn Palace

The other morning I spoke with my younger brother over Facebook.  I would have never considered us close siblings, so I was a little surprised and a little not when he messaged me out of the blue.  For him, 3 am, for me 10 am.  He talked about how he’s been travelling about the Midwest with friends on the weekends, and even that has been culturally eye-opening. I can’t wait until he visits.  Because I understand.  I so understand. 

From now on I’m giving myself the ability to really let my eyes see.

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