A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

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On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Chequamegon Books

Friends, let’s talk bookstores.  We’ve done this before.  There was the time when I studied abroad, and ignored things like the Famous Sights of Paris and Munich in favor of their tiny, English bookstores.  Like this one.

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And this one.

There’s also Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books in St. Paul, which I try to duck into whenever I can (admittedly, part of the draw is hope for a someday sighting of the man himself).

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There’s Half Price Books, which, while somewhat lacking in that cozy bookstore charm, has filled most of my bookshelves because it’s so cheap.

But then there’s my very favorite bookstore, which I had the good fortune to visit last weekend.  I’m only able to go about once a year, as it’s 3.5 miles away from my house, in tiny Washburn, Wisconsin.  Might I introduce Chequamegon Books? (pronounced sheh-wah-meg-an)

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Please note that were you to walk forward down the sidewalk and then turn left around the edge of the building, and were you to continue to walk straight after that, you would find yourself at the edge of Lake Superior after about ten minutes.

I love this bookshop most of all because it’s so familiar to me.  I’ve been getting books here since I was young enough to promise my mother that should she purchase my pile for me, I would pay her back come next allowance.  Chequamegon Books introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, to Betsy Tacy, to the Mary Poppins series.

Most recently, I found the entire His Dark Materials series–in near-new condition–for fifteen dollars. I nearly cheered as the owner was ringing them up, and then, having flippantly declared that I didn’t need a bag and could carry them out, saw that it was raining thick and fast.  So, I did what every gleeful owner of a new set of reads would do: I stuck all three books under my shirt, eight months pregnant-style, and sprinted to the car.

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It’s one of those bookstores that makes you feel intelligent as soon as you walk through the door.  You don’t merely feel as if you’re among readers, but you feel as if you’re among readers who challenge themselves, who discuss what they read, who appreciate the smell of one part coffee one part dust one part yellowed pages as much as you.  It’s not a snobbish place (they do stock the likes of Twilight, I noticed), but it’s a place that makes you want to dive into a classic novel, to scrawl notes in its margins.

Chequamegon Books stacks books horizontally.  It embraces the crammed, the hour search before you unearth the book you’re destined to take home, the handwritten signs, the small wooden chairs placed randomly about should you need to rest while you comfortably browse the lower shelves.

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There are also actual shelf ladders that actually roll across shelves.

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I walked right under this ladder, forgoing all superstition.  Shockingly, I haven’t sustained any major injuries since.  It must be part of the magic of the bookstore.

Chequamegon Books is a peaceful, earthy place, and one of my favorites in the world.

Give Me Another Year

 

A year and a half ago, I saw this movie:

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A year, 5 months, and 23 hours ago, I attained the following songs:

(for the record, I have very little insight into what these songs are actually saying, beyond “the world through rose-colored glasses.”)

A year and three months ago, I found myself here:

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And consequentially, here:

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And that sequence of events is as surreal to me now as it was to me then.  Me, tromping through Paris graveyards in search of Edith Piaf, who I had seen portrayed by Marion Cotillard months earlier.  Me, watching the Eiffel Tower light up from the damp grass of the green stretching in front of it.  And now me, sitting in a house in Morris, Minnesota, getting ready for dinner with friends that will likely not consist of baguettes and French onion soup, but pizza and burgers.  I wonder where I’ll be if you give me another year?

Written Between Amsterdam and Berlin

I found this gem in my Word vault.  I sound more than a little cranky in it, but a day of travel will do that to you.

November 3rd, 2011

We’re tired, now.  The thrill of hurtling through countryside, of exclaiming that this or that “looks like America,” and even the slight guilt that comes with comparing everything with America has worn down into nothing but crumpled fatigue (although, you know, we only do it because we’re homesick). 

Now it’s black outside and all we can see are our own reflections in the window.  I can see Maria dumbly using a plastic knife to smear Nutella onto bread for a halfhearted dinner.  Gabi is engrossed in her Twilight-esque book, turning page after rustling page.  She gets up to let Maria out, and remains standing, which irks me more than it should.  It’s not too much trouble to sit back down, and then get up again, I think.  Anyway, it’s better than clogging the aisle and gawking over my shoulder when I’m trying earnestly to hide the fact that I’m writing about you.

I can’t decide what I want to do.  I do some of my German assignments for a while, and then I read 50 more pages of John Adams.  Then I listen to a few podcasts, but I laugh out loud a few too many times, and have to stop before I’m thrown off the train by old Clint Eastwood across the way.  The constant ding of his incoming emails is, of course, inconsequential.  I finally settle down with crossword and iPod.

We’re not even in Berlin yet, and I don’t know if I have the strength to see another city.  To figure out the metros, to find our hostel in the dark, to plan (and fork over obscene amounts of money for) museum trips and monument viewings, to decide which restaurant to eat in for every single meal, to give my signature blank look when confronted with quick streams of local language.

And yet, here it is.  Here are the lights, here comes the announcement over the intercom in three languages.  I’m here, and now that I see it, perhaps I do have the strength to get off this train after all.

Scenes

One year ago

Tonight

Funny, but both scenes look equally beautiful to me.

Scenes from today:

1. In which I wake up at 5 am with the worst shin splint of my life.  I say “splint” because it was only in my left leg.  Apparently, I run cockeyed.  Or cocklegged?  After whimpering in pain for a few minutes (not my finest hour), I braved the cold hardwood to snatch a bottle of ibuprofen from my purse.  I read The Faerie Queen by flashlight while I waited for the sweet relief to kick in.

2. In which I leave my iPhone at home, and am unable to retrieve it until 8 pm.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that it felt like I had left a finger at home.

3.  In which I learn what it feels like to truly mess up as a student government.  And what it feels like to look around the room and to see the same terrified look on everyone’s face.  And what it feels like to have to take a deep breath and vote “aye” once again, because there’s simply no other option.

4.  In which I decide that breastfeeding in public is gross.  I was taking the minutes at a division meeting, grumbling to myself over the sad fact that professors simply think themselves to be above Robert’s Rules, when suddenly the professor at the next table, who had been holding her five-month-old on her lap for the past half hour, stooped to grab a large scarf from her bag.  Before I could avert my still-scarred-from-too-much-TLC-in-high-school eyes, she draped the scarf around her shoulders and over the baby, and began the feeding as if there weren’t fifty other people in the room.  Gross.  I realize that it’s not fair that you should have to be a pariah just because you have an infant, but still.  Gross.

Library Planning

Finished Mrs. Dalloway.  Alas!  And now begins my 4-5 page paper on Clarissa.

Short post tonight, because I work from 10-midnight and am scurrying to finish my studying before then.

Great libraries I’ve been to:

Melk Abbey Library (Austria).

Austrian National Library in Vienna.

St. Mark’s Square Library in Venice.

It’s a short list, but these great libraries have inspired me to begin my planning for my own future home library.  A globe will be involved, and thick carpet, and leather chairs, and green shaded lamps, and likely no official organization system.