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Showing posts from May, 2010

A Liquid Luxury: Water (This I Will Miss 2)

It's the simple things we miss most when we move to a different country. For me, when we leave Austria this summer, it'll be the clean, refreshing taste of unfiltered tap water. To enjoy drinking water straight from the faucet in a city as large as Vienna - what a luxury! Vienna's drinking water comes from springs located to the Southwest of town, in the mountains of Lower Austria and Styria. It travels around 140 miles, through two large aqueducts which were opened in 1873 and 1910, both under the reign of longtime Emperor Franz Josef I. The springs are part of a water reserve, and the water is so clean, it does not have to be treated. There is, of course, no such thing in Los Angeles. It's a desert. What runs out of the tap is ground water or water from the Colorado River and the slopes of the Sierra. In Southern California my favorite drinking water comes in plastic bottles. It's a designer's concoction, manufactured by one of the food giants of this worl

Ducks and Lilac in Schönbrunn (This I Will Miss 1)

Only three months until we move back to L.A.... More and more I find myself thinking about the things I will miss when we leave Vienna. Here we go, starting with treasures from the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace: Mandarin ducks, sitting alongside the pond. (My blind friend Annemarie pointed them out to me first. She was a passionate bird watcher before her eyes got bad. I will miss her too.) Lilac bushes, their fragrance and lightness, the violet and purple against the green foliage The (almost) untamed wilderness behind the zoo, the dandelions and daisies in the meadow, the damp, cool forest further on.

Turkish Delight and the Pickle Guy's Tongue

The Naschmarkt, a bazaar style market not far from the Opera, has been a favorite of mine since I first moved to Vienna in 1983. At the time the market was more "home grown" than it is now. Farmers came from the agricultural areas outside of Vienna to sell what was in season: asparagus and strawberries in May, cherries in June, cabbage and potatoes in the winter. The men had big working hands, and their wives wore peasant scarves, which they tied at the back of the head. In those days, Vienna was a dull, grey place, inhabited by old, grumpy people. The Iron Curtain was only an hour's drive away. It seemed to weigh on the Viennese, depress them. In the 1990s, after Communism in Europe and with the expansion of the European Union, things began to change. Vienna opened up. When we moved back here two years ago, after an absence of twelve years, I was amazed: the town was younger, more international and vibrant than I could have imagined. The Naschmarkt has changed too. T

Island of the Blessed Mommies

Pope Paul VI, talking to the Austrian President Franz Jonas in 1971, called Austria the "Island of the Happy". The phrase stuck, albeit mutated: throughout the seventies and into the early eighties Austrians saw their country as the "Island of the Blessed". In many ways it still is. Take maternal mortality rates. According to the latest Lancet report 17 out of 100.000 women die in the USA because of pregnancy or child birth; in Austria it is only six out of 100.000. The difference is huge. It means that American women have an almost threefold chance of dying when they become pregnant. The reason for the disparity? Austria is a welfare state. Compared to the USA Austria has no poverty to speak of, and poverty is related to poor health; Austria's health care system is universal, meaning everybody is insured; Some benefits for expectant and new mothers are tied to medical examinations during pregnancy. If a woman does not go for checkups she will lose money.

No Room for Burqas Here?

The debate over burqas has reached Austria and the approximately one hundred women who wear burqas here. Over the past two weeks Chancellor Werner Faymann and the Minister for Women, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek (both Social Democrats), as well as the Minister of Interior, Maria Fekter (People's Party), have called for a ban on burqas. Their arguments: Traffic becomes unsafe when drivers wear full body veils; burqas are a symbol for the oppression of women. Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek said in an interview in April, "the burqa is a symbol for the disdain of women and for their discrimination". She said she was open to dialogue with all parties involved but she also called for a ban on burqas in public buildings, banks, and hospitals. The minister added: "Burqas, being clearly discriminatory, do not belong in our society. There is no room for burqas here." Let's think this through: the burqa, a full body garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions, is used i