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Birthday Question for VALIE EXPORT

This afternoon, listening to the radio, I heard parts of an interview with the Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT whose 70th birthday is coming up in May. Here's a snippet from the program, a question the reporter asked: On milestone birthdays it is customary to ask the jubilant about the highlights of her life. I would like to turn this around and ask you about your lowest points...

The question got me thinking: Why is it that we Austrians focus on the negative? Does it, in some weird way, make us happy? I doubt it. In fact, according to one survey Austria is among the more unhappy nations in Europe, ranking only 20th out of 30. (By contrast, it is number four for wealth, as measured by household income.)

Anyone who has lived in Vienna for a while knows: people like to complain here. They moan and groan. Their glass is half empty. Ask a colleague or a neighbor how they are doing and the response will range from Terrible! to So so. Versions are: Don't ask! and Well, I've been better. Some answers will include information about health (declining), the weather (too hot, too cold, too something), and rising prices (on everything).

I love Vienna, its flirtations with all things doom, gloom, and death included, but at the same time... I miss California. In L.A., as we know, the glass is always filled to the brim or even overflowing. How are you? The CA answer is Great!!! followed by details about the miracle offspring and other blessings: the visit of a friend, a good new read, the sighting of affordable strawberries at the ethnic market around the corner.

What makes California (and other parts of the US) so optimistic? Could it be the perspective of the immigrant, handed down through the generations? People who have left their country of origin, given up their families, friends, and culture in search of a better future will not ruin their new life by complaining. Plus: they are busy working to make it. No time left for whining.

Happy Birthday, VALIE EXPORT!


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