It’s a perfect autumn day — blue sky, crisp air, a colorful autumn carpet creeping into the valleys, greens and yellows of evergreens and larches climbing up toward rocky outcroppings. My supervising teacher from last year at Bachgasse asked me ages ago if I’d like to hike the Rax Mountain, about the closest mountain to Vienna, and we couldn’t have picked a better day. Sitting on rocks sheltered from the breeze, we pull out a Jause (snack)…. If my New Zealand relatives wouldn’t plan an outing without a flask of something hot to drink, the Austrians wouldn’t want to hike without a bit of Speck (smoke ham) and Brot; even the requisite cutting board has made it into the Rucksack.
The hike wasn’t strenuous, and we took a leisurely pace. Natürlich, we also stopped at one of several “huts” (another Austrian given) for some pumpkin soup. But, the hike included a bit of adventure. Opting for a more interesting Steig (climb) both ascending and descending, we were forced to take extra time for the steep bits fitted with ladders and hand- or foot-holds. Meanwhile, there was plenty of time for chatting in English (or a bit of German), observing a few chamois (sort of like mountain goats), or just soaking in the beautiful day. Very refreshing outing, and I felt like I acquired an Austrian uncle for the day.
Backing up a few weeks…
I’m not so sure about how I feel about yoga breathing exercises at 6:15 a.m., but Stefanie is keen to warm up for our half-marathon this way, and I figure it can’t hurt. It feels a little ludicrous — sitting in the living room trying to follow the instructions in German (breath out fast, breath in deeply, hold your breath…), wondering whether the morning will dawn rainy or sunny, and feeling that sort of nervous expectation when you are up early for something big. By 10:00, we’ve driven to Krems, taken the bus (one of many) loaded with other participants to the starting location in Spitz, sat around eating bananas and wondering why some people find it necessarily to run to warm up (aren’t they going to get their fill of running soon enough?), and meandered to the starting area. …Two hours (and three minutes) later — after jogging along with several thousand other people with the Danube River on our right, vineyards on our left, and even a castle at the half-way point — I find myself across the finish life and surprised it’s over. Actually, I’d temporarily forgotten how many kilometers are in a half-marathon and was still dreading the last 1000 meters when the finish line came into view! With Anker (an Austrian bakery) goodies in hand, I wade through the crowds to watch others crossing the finish line before trying to locate Stefanie and a spot to relax in the grass.
The weekend in Krems turned out to be a lot of fun! Besides the running goal, it was grand to get to know an Austrian friend better, to visit her small home-town market and river front, cook together, and even experience the annual poppy seed festival in a neighboring town. (Wow, it must be beautiful there in the spring, when the fields are all aglow with poppies!)
Back to School
With the arrival of October, teaching assistants around Austria all dove into work. Being back at Keimgasse is good, especially reconnecting with teachers I worked with last year and thinking with gratitude about the relationships that have developed in the past year. This year, I’m working with a wider range of ages — the youngest are 1st form (5th grade) and the oldest are 8th form (12th grade). My first day back I met a class of 26 1st form students. Their teacher figured I could handle introductions and a grammar review on my own, and I didn’t have the heart to remind him that TA’s aren’t supposed to teach alone or teach grammar.
The younger students are fun! A group of 2nd formers (with especially good English) kept me answering random questions for much of a lesson. A favorite question is, “How old are you?” I feel like asking, “How old do you think I am?” but it seems safer just say my age! On the other hand, the older students are certainly more capable of, even if not always disposed toward, more substantial questions. In three classes, we’ve been talking about the “American Dream.” This leads to all sorts of challenging questions like, “What is success?” and “Is success individual or communal?”
At my new school in Guntramsdorf I’ll have five lessons each Wednesday. It’s a bit more of a commute, including 25 minutes on the Badnerbahn, a tram line that has been taking people from Vienna to the former regal resort town of Baden for well over 100 years. The school is young and small and so far just 9th and 10th graders; hopefully, it will be easier to get to know students a bit between classes or en route to and from the train.
All in all, I think I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 classes –and approximately 350-400 students — on a two-week cycle. Oh man, I hope I can learn more names than last year, but I’d better get busy studying the seating plans!
I’m also back to university by now. Despite wondering if I really wanted to empty my Austrian bank account to pay for the term, I’m now officially signed up for the winter semester — and this year we’ve all been upgraded from the Dark Ages card-stock student ID’s to a more 21st century version. (I’ll save the relic.) This weekend held rehearsals with two cellists (Rachmaninoff and Brahms sonatas), and this week will hopefully include a meeting with a violinist to talk about repertoire, picking up music for a flautist’s diploma exam next June, and maybe even making some progress about recital venue ideas. Eeks.
There’s a version of “homeschooling” up and running, too! As of my one-year-mark in September, Rachel and I have a pact only to speak German to each other (excepting when in English-speaking-only company). So far, it has meant I’ve talked a bit less and that Rachel has had extra practice exercising the virtue of patience! But, since she’d actually prefer to speak German, and since I absolutely must work on my speaking skills, it’s a pretty grand arrangement.
School makes me think of field trips, and my most recent educational field trip was “take two” of the Lange Nacht der Museen. The “long night” went all too fast — between a fly-through tour of the natural history museum, a minuet (dance) demonstration at the Belvedere, and a nearly-midnight concert of opera arias whistled, to name some.
Back to the language topic, there’s a sign in many of the practice rooms at the uni which says something like, “Rauchen und essen ist verboten in Unterrichts- und Übungsräume” (Smoking and eating is forbidden in teaching and practice rooms.) But, in at least one room, the sign bears embellishment: “Rauchend Hund zu essen ist verboten…” (Eating a dog while smoking is forbidden”). I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s still funny.
Besides conversation practice, I’ve been dabbling in reading the dictionary. I’m on “E,” but it’s not very impressive since I started with “E.” Anyhow, I have some new favorites:
1) Eintagsfliege (“one-day-fly”) for mayfly (Side note: For a long time I repeatedly referred to a Knoxville bakery as “Mayflies” when I mean “Magpies.” I guess I wouldn’t have the same problem auf Deutsch.),
2) Ellbogenfreiheit for elbowroom,
3) From the hike today, the word for sore muscles after exercise: Muskelkater (“muscle hangover”).
Enough silly words for one post!