Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The European Interlude: July 11 - July 20

I should’ve known they wouldn’t let me leave Chiang Mai without a fight. As a little bird informed me after the fact, in Thailand, you should always get things in writing. People like to say one thing and then say something completely different shortly afterward. Such was the case with my boss, who when I went in to hand her my substitute schedule sheet, reacted as if I was completely insane.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“The schedule and list of people who will be subbing for me while I’m gone, just as you asked.”
She retained a look of confusion on her face. “What is this for? Where are you going?” My boss always talks in a very fast and abrasive manner, like a machine gun, whether she’s happy or not, so it can be difficult to read what she’s thinking.
“I’m going to a wedding in Austria. Remember, I came in here just under a month ago and we talked about this and you gave me the go-ahead.”
“I don’t remember any such thing.”
I couldn’t tell if she was pulling my leg.
“Are you serious?” I inquired. “I came in here a few weeks ago and told you I had a wedding in Austria and you said as long as I found the necessary subs that it was fine.”
There was a long pause in which she just stared at me dumbly.
She broke the silence. “You’re supposed to be representing Princeton, right? You knew you’d be working here this year, right? I don’t know. I don’t know. You know that other girl, T___? She just decided to take off for two weeks with barely any notice. That’s not appropriate at all.”
The supply of oxygen in the room felt like it was rapidly depleting.
“But I told you about this as soon as I arrived, which was a month in advance, and you told me it was fine.” I meekly protested.
“Well, when T___ gets back, she’s going to find that she doesn’t have a position for next semester. Do you plan on just taking off like this next semester?”
“No.”
“Well, I hope not. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“So is everything all right then?”
“Fine, fine” she said in a tone that would have left complete doubt in anyone’s mind that anything was remotely fine.

And so I left Chiang Mai unsure about my job security. I flew Turkish Airlines from Bangkok to Vienna with a stopover in Istanbul. My first impressions regarding the airline were particularly drab, as were my later ones, but at least I had a whole row to myself during the 10 hour stretch from Bangkok to Istanbul. There were no individual TV screens, it was impossible to see the community screen for my section, the food was peculiar (no Pork, are you kidding me?), but it was a-ok because I pretty much slept the whole way excluding the particularly turbulent stretch a few hours into the flight which sent the drink cart lurching and the flight attendant diving. She was in a perpetually bad mood for the remainder of the flight. Such a scour on such a pretty face, and as I discovered, it seems that in order to be a flight attendant on Turkish Air, you must be pretty and wear a constant scour. Another thing I can’t figure out is why they always play “The George Lopez Show” on international flights in far off places of the world, as if it’s some kind of universal television program. It wasn’t well received in America and it sure as hell isn’t received any better anywhere else. It’s awful.
I arrived in Vienna on the morning of the 12th where I met Daniel the Swede at the airport. My flight landed slightly before his, so when he emerged from luggage claim, I was there waiting for him with a silly little sign that I’d drafted up in the interim. It was a passionate reuniting that saw us fondle each others’ balls a bit and rub facial gruff together in hopes of creating fire, then it was time to explore Vienna a bit. We walked around the city on foot, breezing past all of the churches and various other minor architectural feats because Daniel and I are such jaded travelers, though I guess the Parliament building was nice enough. Maybe it’s because people don’t know how to walk properly in Vienna, but we were accidentally bumping into someone every five minutes, to which they would meet us with harsh words and pumping fists.
On the train to Graz, Daniel and I both fell asleep, awoke to picturesque Alp scenery, dozed off again, and finally awoke in Europe’s 2003 cultural capital. Rudi greeted us on the platform, and like Daniel, didn’t look any different; still the same old Austrian Kenny G doppelganger.
Q: What did Kenny G say when he walked into an elevator?
A: Man, this place rocks!

Rudi had set us up at a really nice bed and breakfast of sorts down the road from him and right next to the church where the marriage would take place. Our room looked like a quaint version of a sample room right out of an Ikea catalogue, though much of the furniture was actual Ikea. We dropped off our bags and headed over to Rudi’s for a meal “not very representative of Austria” consisting of wraps, pute (what we call Turkey), and various “add to your liking” vegetables and condiments. There was an attempt at guacamole, so I was a very happy camper. Also in attendance at the dinner were Rudi’s fiancée Bianca, a girl named Chelsea, and her psychic mother Lori. Chelsea was once a camper of Rudi’s when he was head counselor and choir master seven years prior at Austria’s very own “Sound of Music Camp.” How Bianca wasn’t disturbed by the Lolita-esque dynamic is beyond me. On the walk back to the B&B, Daniel and I found ourselves asking the question of how we even wound up here in the first place. How well did we even know Rudi after all?

The wedding was held at a fancily architected Catholic church.
“Do you think we’ll incinerate at the entrance for being Jews” Daniel asked me.
“Who knows?” I responded. “Maybe.”
God was on our side that day and we miraculously failed to spontaneously combust. The bride entered down the aisle of the church to Bach’s eerie Toccata and Fugue – the song that’s famously used in horror movies and Tales From the Crypt (if that gives you any idea of the kind of mood it sets). This was no ordinary wedding: it was a music laden modern day opera courtesy of Graz’s own acappella choir and various tattoo-ridden and uniquely hair styled musicians wearing some bizarre-ass attire. The bride’s grandpa, a small silver-haired old man, bawled throughout the entire service, even when it seemed like things couldn’t get any happier. At some point the priest made a joke (in both German and then English) about the irony of Australians in Austria – an issue that has long confounded the world in which neither the twine shall meet or else the world might spin off its axis – which was relevant being that several people from Australia were in attendance and that’s where we all first met. After the service there were drinks served outside and I learned that “gazuntite” is actually how they say “cheers” in various parts of Austria. They had no idea that we often use it in place of “bless you” back in that hodge-podge country known as the USA. The wedding reception was held at a castle in the countryside of Feldbach. I guess it was pretty typical as far as Austrian weddings go. The first dance is always the waltz – that’s the only thing you gotta know when it comes to European weddings. Know how to waltz or face the music, that’s all there is to it. Oh yeah, for all the Austrians out there, if you’ve never been to the States before, don’t make Newark, NJ your first and only stop, otherwise your experience could be a little disappointing. This guy Philip I met still had a sour taste in his mouth over his trip to a place where he swore “they don’t have grocery stores, all the men have gigantic muscles, it always rains, and everyone eats at the International House of Pancakes.”
I left early the following morning on a train back to Vienna before jumping on a plane to Rome. Emily and I had some last-minute email swapping that left a most ambiguous meeting point in Termini Station, but luckily, amidst the five million people scurrying around frantically like insects, she found me, even after wandering to and from the hostel and waiting by the train arriving from Milan, because somehow she crazily thought I was taking the train all the way from Vienna to Rome and that miraculously it would only take a few hours. Since the reunion happened so suddenly and only after much endured stress on both parties, I didn’t get to run toward her in slow motion, pick her up and swirl her around. It was even a bit strange seeing this person, this girlfriend of mine; a girl who in two months time now came off as a stranger. To me she looked skinnier in the face. To her, I looked skinnier in the muscles. To each other, two confused people trying to find reason behind the surface. It took a while before all those old feelings rushed back, just like at the beginning when I used to get so excited around her that I could lose my food at any moment. In actuality, I did lose my food several times in the beginning, and after the beginning, and all the way up until the present.
After some cleaning up (on her part, not mine) we went out for a bite to eat with some friends she and Patrice had made from the hostel: a chronically clammy-handed Brazilian and a guy who very well might’ve been the real life Bubble Boy from Nebraska. The next two days, we did all the touristy things one does in Rome, though I missed out on the Coliseum and Roman Forum, which they had already gotten out of the way before I arrived. I had arranged for Emily and I to have our own hostel each of the two nights we were there. The first night we had a really nice room somehow obtained on a fluke, so the next morning we had to move to the hostel’s other location – confusingly enough, the hostel had three locations, all located on opposite ends of the city. They weren’t even really like hostels, but more like rooms rented out in a private flat. Both nights it was ridiculously loud outside our window. Why the city of Rome chooses to empty its dumpsters at 3am is perplexing, and why it takes an hour to do so is an even greater mystery. Our bed at the second location was elevated in the middle, so every time Emily and I came close to embracing, like a modern take on the chastity belt, the peak would hurl us down our respective sides. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The bed in the first hostel location wasn’t comfortable either, and the following few nights, our bed at the campsite in Sorrento was even worse. The bed in Sorrento was actually two beds squished together with vicious protruding springs on the attack against our vulnerable backs and sides and stomachs throughout the night. There was also the nuisance of being sandwiched between the noisy restaurant/drinking area and our cabin cluster’s community picnic area. All this talk of dolorous beds made me forget to mention that between Rome and Sorrento, we stopped off for some pizza in Napoli where it was born. The dough tasted like Naan and the men in Napoli tend to make gross amphibian-like faces with fluttering tongues at passing by females. I’d take a slice of NYC style over Napoli’s finest any day, but that’s not to say Napoli doesn’t make decent pizza, it’s just that I prefer Pizza Hut. Sorrento was beautiful, just like Ems, so it had that much going for it. During the days we took trips to Capri and Positano. On the boat to Capri, it was reassuring to learn that Europe has its share of white trash as well. It was also reassuring to see people with BMW’s camp out in Sorrento at the same place as Contiki tour constituents, and doubly reassuring to see that Australians – with merely a population of 30 million – are still taking over the world. As the Australian backpacker I sat and ate Kebobs with in Istanbul said, “Oh gosh. Do you think we’re worse than the Japanese?”
“Eh” I began, “At least you guys don’t always throw up the peace sign in photos.”
That’s about all I remember from Istanbul. I saw Turkey’s equivalent to the Sistene Chapel in the Aya Sofya and got a stamp in my passport. Five hours in that city were a total whirlwind.
That whole day was kind of a whirlwind. I left Emily at 4am in order to walk the 3km to the train station for a 5am train in order to be on a 6am train leaving out of Napoli that was crucial if I wanted to make the perfectly timed train out of Rome to the airport where my flight was set to depart at 10am. As rough as that was, it wasn’t as rough as saying goodbye to Emily, but I’ll spare you the sentimentality.

It's Olive from Little Miss Sunshine

Truly, we're from Positano; no tourists here.


1 comment:

Allen said...

very funny jared. fix those links to the pictures. the picture with emily and the scooter looks cool.