“First ice cream of the year?”

6 Apr

I was walking home from the supermarket on this Friday evening. In front of me was what I took to be a little family group–mother on the left, a tow-headed boy about six years old in the middle, and father on the right. The boy was licking with great enthusiasm a large and delicious-looking ice cream cone. His mother watched with pride and pleasure and said, “Das erste Eis heuer?” (“First ice cream of the year?”)

The German-language students among you may think “‘Heuer’? What’s ‘heuer’?” “Heuer” is Austrian dialect for “dieses Jahr” or “this year”. That tiny scene made me happy–that I have learned the language to the level where I know that immediately and that I live in a country that still respects the seasons (at least in some things). It is possible to get ice cream at the supermarket in winter, but if you want ice cream parlor ice cream you have to wait. The traditional places are closed from October to March. (They used to be turned into fur coat stores in the winter, but now, it seems, even the Viennese are not buying enough fur coats to keep them in business.)

You can imagine under these circumstances that the first ice cream of the year becomes an event.

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St. Patrick’s Day in Vienna

17 Mar

This scene was accompanied by music from a brass band in best Austrian tradition, but I was drawn by the sound of the pipes that preceded it.

The Anschluss – 80 years on | ecbinvienna

12 Mar

10 years ago I wrote the text linked below. Reading it again, I am struck by how quickly we have moved to just such a situation historians and survivors warned about then. Let us remain active and keep lighting those candles, every day.

https://ecbinvienna.com/2013/03/13/the-anschluss-75-years-on/

Heringschmaus

10 Feb

“Heringschmaus” (one contributor to the online dictionary at leo.org suggested “herring delight” as a translation) is a traditional feast on Ash Wednesday. Now, if that sounds contradictory to you, then you are not alone. I come from the Protestant tradition, where there was certainly no feasting on Ash Wednesday. It was a day of great solemnity and deprivation, even though when I was a child we didn’t celebrate anything like Carnival so had nothing to recover from or make up for.

In the Austrian context–one of moderation in all things, even moderation–Heringschmaus makes sense, though. It goes along with the dearly held belief, in the meantime supported in some ways by medical studies, that eating “sour” things like pickles helps alleviate the symptoms of a (Mardi Gras) hangover. (The herring in this case is pickled and is eaten with pickled vegetables like beets and cabbage.) It also complies with the Catholic idea that eating fish is somehow penance (no meat).

What to do this year when Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day? The Kurier is suggesting Heringschmaus by candlelight. Just thought I’d pass that tip along. 😉

NYTimes: Gowns, Wurst and Protesters: It’s Ball Season in Vienna

9 Feb

We made the New York Times! (Doesn’t happen all that often.)

Gowns, Wurst and Protesters: It’s Ball Season in Vienna https://nyti.ms/2GL8Fkl

January weather

28 Jan

My first January in Vienna (1989), we only had 26 hours of sunshine the whole month. People were gray-faced and weary and the suicide rate rose significantly. This year is giving 1989 a good run for its money. The sun is shining (sort of) as I write this, but it doesn’t look as if it’s going to stay out, and, indeed, it has already disappeared for a lengthy period once this morning. It may not be all that cold–it’s about 4°C or approximately 40°F–but this weather is not for sissies. I’d almost prefer the 5°F (~ -9°C) with the deep and shining blue skies of my New England childhood.

Ah, well, at least it’s not -9°C with gray skies! 😉

Shopping

21 Jan

I love shopping at Mastnak on Neubaugasse. It’s the epitome of the kind of specialty store Vienna used to have hundreds of (or perhaps thousands–I’m not very good with numbers).

In this case, their specialty is paper and office supplies, although they also have a very good arts and crafts department. A fews days ago when I was there, I was looking for refills for a four-color Lamy pen I’ve had since I was a teenager and erasers for a Faber-Castell propelling lead pencil. (You can keep your Mont Blancs and your Graf von Faber-Castels. I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of woman who appreciates quality and ease of writing but doesn’t want to take out a mortgage for a writing implement.)

I knew that I could get the Lamy refills because I have bought them there many times. I was less sure about the erasers, but having struck out at Libro (the Austrian equivalent of Staples, where I bought the pencil itself) I thought Mastnak was my best bet. I never should have doubted them. Even though I neglected to take the pencil to show them (Faber-Castell makes a lot of different models) they promptly took me to the right drawer and provided me with a pack of three erasers (the original eraser lasted at least five years so we’re talking fifteen years of use here) for a little over EUR 2. While I was there, I was reminded of the year I decided to use up old candle ends and make my own candles. I remembered how to do that from summer camp, but I had no idea where to get wicks. Well, that arts and crafts department I mentioned, which shares the floor with the pencil erasers–they sell wicks, among many other things.

For the record, I am someone who hates to throw out a toaster, for example, because I can’t repair it myself and the repair shop tells me it isn’t worth doing because the repair would cost twice what a new appliance would. I hate being made an accomplice to this wasteful, throwaway society we live in. For that reason, I deeply appreciate how the Mastnak product range and service make it possible to live an old-fashioned economical life, at least in my paper and office supplies. It makes possible a life where things (even old candle ends) aren’t just thrown away but are re-used.

As our grandparents could tell us, living economically in that way is also environmentally friendly. You don’t have to throw away the very nice propelling lead pencil because it doesn’t have an eraser anymore. You replace the eraser and get a couple more decades of use and pleasure out of it.  And beyond helping people recycle old candles and restore their mechanical pencils, Mastnak helps its customers live an environmentally friendly life by having a whole section of office products made, for example, from recycled paper. They even sell the inks you need to top up those refillable flipchart markers that most people don’t bother to refill, probably partly because it’s not easy to find the necessary ink.

Those aren’t the only points that make it a specialty store, though. Their staff know what they’re doing. They know where things are, even though the store is on several floors and has things squeezed into every corner. They understand what you need even from your rather flawed descriptions. And they are helpful. None of the quite common “Das gibt’s nicht” (“There’s no such thing”, which means “I’ve never heard of it” or “We don’t stock it” or maybe even “I’d have to get a ladder to get it down from the top shelf and that is just too much trouble”), which you might hear at other stores in Vienna. At Mastnak, they smile at you and lead you to the thing you’re looking for.

How can Mastnak survive, I hear you asking, when they take up time and space with erasers that only cost EUR 2 for a pack of three? For one thing, they sell Mont Blancs, too, and one Mont Blanc probably pays the rent for at least a week. For another thing, the store was crowded when I was there, with short lines at each of the several cash registers. They probably also have a thriving online business. Being lucky enough to live in this city, though, I’ve never used it.