In keeping with my New Year’s resolution to post once a month, it’s time for an update! A month ago, I was in Knoxville, enjoying Christmastime with family and friends!
The two plus weeks were filled with cherished holiday traditions (baking cookies with Mom and Hannah, singing Christmas carols, enjoying the fragrant Christmas tree, listening to Handel’s Messiah and van Williams’ Hodie, and other Christmas favorites), significant nondescript family time (that’s not a negative [non-]description, but it’s not very interesting to blog about sitting around drinking coffee and chewing the fat), lots and lots of wedding talk with Hannah (quite fun), and a number of good visits with friends – dropping by old neighbors’, finding friends willing to dive into deeper conversation, enjoying a wonderful and beautifully icy hike up Mt. LeConte….
At the same time, the trip was not easy. Dad seems to be in about the same place as when I was home over the summer. Everyone who I talked with back home wanted to know how he was, but daily life (even for those who rejoice in good health) tends to be rather unremarkable. Especially for a prolonged illness, how does one convey the painful monotony of each day, the unforeseen hurdles, the relentlessness of it? How does one even pretend to “report” accurately? How to even communicate one’s own, undefined participation in the suffering of another? “O Lord, you know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. I awake, and I am still with you” (from Psalm 139).
…Coming back to Vienna I had hardly any jetlag and jumped pretty much right back into the routine here. That said, I sometimes feel like I live torn between two worlds – cherishing friends far and near (wherever I find myself) and sometimes at a loss to communicate on either shore of the Atlantic what it is that constantly tugs in the other direction.
…In Vienna in the winter, after the Christmas season passes and the Christmas markets close, certain other intriguing cultural icons materialize. You know you are in Austria – where skiing is the domain of 3-year-olds on up – when you climb on the tram, and the info screen is a summary of the snow levels and number of lifts open at the nearest slopes. Or, you know you are in Vienna – where the coffee culture is celebrated – when the winterizing of the rose bushes in the public gardens is accomplished with the help of burlap coffee sacks.
You know you are in Austria – a country that boasts a lake with a 25-km ice-skating loop – when hundreds of people turn out on a Saturday night for ice skating in front of the city hall (this year the area boasts three skating rinks, connected with ice paths through the park). And, perhaps most of all, you know you are in Vienna – home of the waltz – when ball season comes.
This year I’ve managed to take in two balls. The first was a charity ball put on by the Russian Orthodox Church. It was pretty unusual seeming to have a bishop show up at a ball!
The second was quite spontaneous. Elisabeth, a friend from the first school where I worked, asked me if I’d like to join her for the Blumenball (flower ball) at the Rathaus (city hall). Her boyfriend and his boss were working there for the evening (as DJs), and there was an extra ticket. Well, why not?
Oh my, oh my! One hundred thousand flowers, including hordes of orchids. Hundreds of elegantly dressed couples of all ages. Vast main hall where, after the traditional opening dance (performed by dozens of couples, all the women in white gowns), the floor was opened to all for the following eight hours or so. Staircases and hallways and other rooms with smaller dance floors. Did I say there were lots of flowers?
We did a lot of watching people dance, as the two guys were busy working. However, Elisabeth and I managed a bit of line dancing and a rather hopeless attempt at the complicated quadrille (at midnight and again, slightly less hopelessly, at 2:00 a.m.). However, at something like 2:30 a.m., just after we’d eaten some sausages (totally Austrian, if not exactly fitting with ball attire and atmosphere, in my mind), Erwin and Norbert could take a break for a waltz or two. I’m not a good dancer at all, but my lessons in the fall paid off a bit. The best part of the night might have been dancing the Vienna Waltz just before 5:00 a.m. Sailing around a hall with parquet flooring and vaulting ceiling, with a long ball gown, and a guy who really knows how to dance, is quite a lot of fun.
For lots more photos, click here.
While most of the guests left, we still had all the sound equipment to pack up. Man, it seemed like a lot of work at that time of morning, but finally everything was packed and loaded in the van. I walked home at 7:15 – with enough time to sleep for an hour. I’d rather foolishly promised a friend to go running at 9:00!
Lest it sound like all I’ve done the past three weeks is dance from one elegant engagement to another, there has been a decent amount of work for university (plus school teaching, of course). The winter term runs October through February – with some written assignments to be turned in by March 1st. So, I managed my first uni essay exam yesterday (Old Testament Israel) – nice professor and small class, though I was less fond of the deconstructionist (in my view) reading of the biblical text, or of the minor detail that I could hardly ever stay properly awake for a whole class. The course on the history, religion, and culture of Oman turned out to be interesting; maybe someday I’ll see more than the airport. (I think I flew through Oman on the way to India in 2004???)
The hermeneutics class proved to be my favorite – a wide sweep of backgrounds and opinions among the class members (from no biblical background, to a Catholic priest, to the lone [?] Protestant); incredibly well-informed, young professor, who did a great job juggling the diverse class; interesting assignments, mostly about the book of Jonah. The last class – and the most challenging – has been one on Augustine’s Confession. I’m in the throes of figuring out exactly what I’m going to write my paper on (10 pages, single-spaced, seems long to me), but it will have something to do with either Augustine’s/the Confessions commentary on music or on the concept of God’s rest. Thankfully, I can write the paper in English!
Well, as usual, I’m blogging late at night before an early more train or plane. More on that next time!