The other day our daughter came home from school with a new assignment: memorize the names of the counties in Austria and their two letter abbreviations on car license plates. There are 99! The assignment is typical of Austria - and very different from our previous experience in the USA where skills rather than encyclopedic knowledge were taught. Why feed students with often useless knowledge which they need to be able to reproduce on demand? In times of Google and Wikipedia? The schooling philosophy behind Austrian teaching is probably 250 years old. It favors dictated over self directed learning, dependent thinking over independent judgment, and authoritarian over democratic structures. God bless Austria!
What do we know about simplicity? Figs from our tree. Figs. The taste of summer, the taste of home; my immigrant home. Our backyard tree is heavy with fruit. In the mornings I go out to pick what is ripe; figs for breakfast, a treat straight from the tree; flesh and seeds, refreshing and sweet, grainy resistance and softness at the same time. Figs, the color of their skin, purple with blotches of green or white stripes where they have cracked. The reds and browns inside bring up memories: a summer spent in Normandy, France, with my parents, my brother, and my maternal grandmother. Life was about food in its basic, original form, about mussels and figs and cheese; it was about the ocean and its tides, gigantic but predictable, and about history. We visited Bayeux to see the tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings; we spent a day or a half at Arromanches, saw a documentary on D-Day and the landing of the allied forces on the b