Monday, 24 September 2007

Groundhog Event: Rupertikirtag

Today, September 24th, is the Rupertikirtag, the Patron's Day here in Salzburg. Saint Rupert of Salzburg is the patron and protector of the city and state of Salzburg. Even though I've just read in Wikipedia that Rupert's feast day is March 27th, Salzburg always honors him from September 20th to September 24th. Don't ask me why.

The Rupertikirtag is quite interesting, because schools, banks and public authority have the day off. Unfortunately I don't belong to any of these categories, so I had to go to work. There is a kind of funfair (Dult) in the three squares around the cathedral. The fine weather on Sunday was too big a temptation for the hobby photographer in me. Such venues always provide a thousand details that deserve to be photographed!

I like Rupertikirtag. Barcelona's patrona (a female patron), La Mercè, is celebrated on September 24th as well. And Tarragona's one, Santa Tecla, just one day before. It's not quite the same, but I love the coincidence!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The importance of words

If there is something I like about Austrians is their sincerity and how do they say stuff in a straight way. For good and for bad, they do not talk in roundabouts. Which is something quite nice, because understanding certain euphemisms in a foreign language is no easy job. Like the time I was at the doctor and the nurse asked me if I could make a Hahn (which may mean rooster, tap or valve). Even though I said yes without a doubt, used as I am to understanding things after a little delay, I guess my face might have been quite explicit, because until she had some mercy and pronounced the word Urin I did not realise that she was asking me for an urine test.

But I am loosing my focus. I was saying that Austrians do not like roundabouts and tend to call a a spade a spade. As an example, the piece of news that I read yesterday about the doormen of one of the most poshy locations in Salzburg, who did not let in an Iranian and a Bolivian because, using their own words, "there were already too many foreigners inside." No roundabouts. No evasive answers. And no shame, I would point out.

The arrest of an alleged group of Islamist terrorists in Vienna (who were, in fact, nothing but three morons that used the Internet to utter threats and, allegedly, could have got some information about what would they have to do in the event of having to get themselves some explosives) has been all too good for some critical voices with Islam and its presence at the heart of Europe. The usual hatemongers appeared on the media right away: Jörg Haider, from his Carinthian fief, championing a veto on headscarves and minarets, and HC Strache, shielded by the intellectual elite in Brigittenau, picketing the building of an Islamic cultural centre. The novelty this time is that they come along with some other characters, who do not lean so much to the right, like Lower Austria's Landeshauptmann (something like the head of the provincial government), Erwin Pröll, a couple of weeks ago.

There is no need to erect a mosque in Lower Austria, stated the guy, because "minarets are foreign (etwas Artfremdes). And, in the long run, foreign does no good to a culture." And let us stop here for a moment to weigh the word choice. It is difficult to translate the word Artfremd. It might be something alien, something foreign. This word is by no means new and has some quite negative connotations. It was used, along with entartet (degenerate, depraved) and ungesund (unhealthy, noxious), to refer to the work of Jewish artists. In 1937 the Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition opened in Munich, featuring over 650 paintings, sculptures, prints and books by modern artists like Oskar Kokoschka, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix or Emil Nolde, selected by the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda among the 16000 confiscated by the Nazis. The exhibition wanted to horrify the visitors with the depravation of Jewish art. Interestingly enough, it has been the most successful modern art exhibition in Germany ever since, with more than 2 million visitors.

Mr. Pröll might have chosen fremdartig (exotic, alien, unfamiliar), which sounds far less harmful than artfremd. Although I have read that he also likes to use Überfremdung, a word meaning something like "foreign infiltration", which is one of the favourite words of the right wing extremism, and was voted Faux-pas Word of the Year (Unwort des Jahres) in 1993 by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language).

Setting the word choice aside, I think claiming that foreign does no good to a culture is very sad and shows an alarming simple-mindedness. How would be Lower Austria today, had the "foreign" Celtic and Roman people not come? But I guess that my buddy Pröll, seeing how extended that profound ignorance that identifies Islam with terrorism is, does nothing but catching a cheap argumentation train. With quite undesirable travel companions, might I say.

Maybe it is the need to feel themselves members of a group, the need to feel special, what drives those not-any-more-teenagers to believe that shouting Allah Akhbar before pushing that little button will bring them into Paradise... Maybe we all have this need to belong to a group, to feel special.

From my side, I do feel quite special when I realize, for example, that the Spanish word zanahoria bears no resemblance to any other language whatsoever (neither the English carrot, nor the German Karotte or Möhre, nor the Italian carota, nor the French carotte, nor the Catalan pastanaga, nor the Occitan pastenaga, nor the Greek καρότο), except perhaps the Portuguese cenoura. When I realize that "Spain is different", and probably the most admired here Spanish spiritedness, have their roots in Al-Andalus and in Islam. When I listen to the lively phone conversation of that friendly man wearing a turban who sometimes shares the bus with me on the way back home and I realize that, if I don't pay much attention to the words but only to the melody, he could be perfectly taken for someone from Málaga or Córdoba.

And on realizing all that, I feel really proud of that Moorish DNA, of that Maghreb and Arabic heritage that we Spaniards have in our blood, an old and wise heritage that, were we able to listen to it, would tell us its story. Our History.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

What would I miss?

When I was younger, I could not understand why were there that many different newspapers. "There is just one piece of news," I thought, "only one event happened, it has to be the same for everybody and it should be reported in the same way... shouldn't it?" I had not realized yet that it is not what you say what counts, it is how you say it.

One of the silent readers of this blog, my friend S., told me last week that I seem to adopt a rather negative point of view when I write about my life in Salzburg. I was a little surprised, but looking back at my short blogging history, I have to admit that he may have a point.

I began writing this blog because I wanted to talk about what surprises me about my life here, what catches my attention. Reading it now, it turns out that most of the things that I considered worth blogging about, did surprise me in a negative way. But, hey!, I don't want to be taken for one of those whiney Spanish expats, always moaning about the weather, about the language, about how hard it is to make friends here, always looking for the Spanish expat community because "you are going to have the need to grumble about the locals with a couple fellow countrypersons."

I think I may have a communication problem. I think I might have failed to transmit how much do I enjoy living here. I think I might be putting too much weight on the negative sides of my opinions. Perhaps the way in which I express them happens to be too direct. Perhaps I happen to express myself in a too self-confident way, while I am doing nothing but speculating about, guessing, trying to put some order in the world around me. I think what I say might not be correlating with how I feel.

Mar told me something very beautiful yesterday. She thinks of her blog as nothing but a collection of all the warm memories that she will want to keep along from our Murmeltierjahre in Austria. And I think that is very wise. That's why she sounds so warm and so cheery in her blog, that's why mine seems some sort of evil twin when putting them side by side.

That's why I decided to come up with a list of all those things that I would miss about Salzburg, about Austria, should I now have to leave.

(i) Salzburg has just the right size to bicycle around. I could never do it in Barcelona, because motorists are not used to consider bikes as road users there, there are few dedicated lanes, and your bike is likely to be stolen the five minutes you don't look at it. I love commuting by bike. The 45 minutes ride to my office helps me start working full of energy in the morning, and helps me leave all work issues at the office when riding back home in the afternoon.

Volksgarten, Salzburg, May 2005

(ii) Living around wonderful lakes and superb mountains. I always admired mountains. I used to spend summer vacation at the Vall d'Aran, in the Pyrenees, as a child, and I always loved going back there from time to time. Now I live at the feet of the Alps, and I can get postcard views of them every day.

Untersberg, Salzburg, February 2006

(iii) If I want to be in contact with Nature, it is just five minutes away from home. Really. I just need to take the lift up the Mönchsberg and I am already there. How cool is that? Salzburg is green. So green it even hurts the eyes of someone like me, who grew up in a quite brown, dusty and hard landscape, which I also love, by the way. Most of Spain looks dusty because it doesn't rain enough. Everything looks bright green in Salzburg because it rains a lot. It might seem trivial, but it took me a while to realize that!

Wolfgangsee, Sankt Gilgen, August 2007

(iv) I think for a hobby photographer like myself there is nothing more appealing than the orchestra of colours that play wonderful symphonies every autumn. Dark greens, ochres, yellows, reds, oranges... I can't get enough of them!

Thumsee, Germany, October 2006 / Wolfgangsee, October 2005

(v) Spending a rainy afternoon in a coffee house, reading a book, having a good conversation or simply letting life pass around me.

(vi) All kinds of wonderful edible products that you can get directly from the farmers at the marketplace. Kohlrabi, lots of pumpkins that look like aliens, Speck (a kind of bacon), Steirisches Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil from Styria), Kren (horseradish), and a seemingly endless row of Würstl (sausages) that you eat at the Würstlstand, quite an Austrian institution.

Naschmarkt, Vienna, August 2007

(vii) How easy it is to have your life organised. Working times are reasonable here, and I love having lunch around noon and being back home at 18h to have dinner around 19h. It might seem to go without saying, but try to do something like that in Spain.

(viii) The Fingerlos breakfast.

(ix) The winter. I mean, a real winter with snow, with minus temperatures, with frozen nose, ears and finger tips. Where it takes five minutes to put on all clothes you need to go outside. Where you might even be able to walk on a frozen lake.

Fuschlsee, January 2006

(x) Having the chance to practise a foreign language every day. Having to live in a foreign language might be often quite despairing, but it is the only way to get to master that language. Seeing it as a challenge and not as a burden is, I think, the right approach to it.

(xi) I did not like beer back in Spain. Then I came here and it was clear that I had to review my beliefs. Even the much acclaimed Czech Budweiser beer does not match Salzburg's Stiegl (hey, that's my poor opinion!).

Freilichtmuseum, Grossgmain, May 2007

(xii) I will certainly miss those little advantages of being a stranger. For example, being able to ignore the subtitles at the last Almodóvar movie and understanding every single joke in it. Or knowing how incredibly silly are the lyrics of the last latino hit song. Or knowing that, even though this one song is in Spanish, the guy singing sounds more like an Italian...

And, of course, I am going to miss a lot of great friends that, in spite of all the Spanish whiney expat folklore, I have been lucky enough to find here.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Let no one sleep...

Luciano Pavarotti died today.

I will never forget him singing Nessun dorma, from Puccini's Turandot. I don't know how it happens, but I hardly can refrain my tears every time I feel that tremendous energy from all'alba vincerò (at dawn I shall win).

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Exploring Austria (v)

We spent the last days of our vacation in Munich. I know Munich is not really in Austria, but I could not resist the thrive for completeness and I called this post "Exploring Austria (v)" to set an end to my (hopefully not boring!) vacation series.

One of the biggest clashes that we experienced as we moved to Salzburg was the contrast between life in a (quite) big city like Barcelona and life in a (quite) small city like Salzburg. I think this might have been as hard as the different language or the different mentality.

We miss the big city. We miss its constant beat, its life, its breath. Even after three years, we still have not got used to not being able to watch any interesting movie for a month, because there is really no interesting movie going on for a month (!!). We miss the perfect anonymity that only a big city can provide. We miss the wonderful mixture of people that you'll only find in a big city. I even miss that feeling when you get into a bus and you know that, even after a one hour ride, you'll still be in the city.

I guess that's why we go so often to the big cities around. Munich is the one closest to us, and it is always worth another visit. Maybe because of the strange attraction that I have about some of the darkest passages in its recent history. Surely because of the Viktualienmarkt, where the most incredible products may be found, where the hobby photographer gets really crazy and from where you actually can feel the heart of the city.

Maybe because the Englischer Garten always invites to take off your shoes and feel the grass on your bare feet. Surely because of the irresistible combination of a couple of Münchner Weißwürstel with sweet mustard and a Weißbier. Maybe because you can find the most incredible restaurants in Schwabing (our latest discovery was Ignaz, a vegetarian so good that we had to have dinner there two days in a row!).

We really enjoyed our stay and it was a perfect finale for a great vacation. Most of all, because Munich is, above all, gemütlich!