September 24, 2006

How beautiful was Vienna today?

Posted in Austria, Vienna at 12:09 am by billdawson

Just let Belvedere show you:


September 13, 2006

My new job as opera reviewer

Posted in Austria, Music, Opera at 11:35 pm by billdawson

No, I’ll stick to programming computers. But I am pleased to say that I have now attended an opera at least (and exactly) one time in my life. Last week my wife and I saw La bohème at the Vienna State Opera, surely one of the world’s most famous opera houses. Amazingly and embarrassingly enough, I’ve lived here for 6 years and never previously attended an opera at the Staatsoper (or anywhere else, for that matter.)

Well, the experience was absolutely fabulous. I was actually overwhelmed. And of course now I’m thinking, “I’m going to start going to the opera frequently!” In truth, don’t be surprised if it’s another six years until the next one — you know how it is, you get begeistert over something, make big plans, and then your day-to-day routine kicks-in and your good intentions are suddenly not so important anymore. But I’d sure like to try to make it a more common occurrence.

Here are some of my impressions about the whole opera-going experience.

First, if you’re thinking about attending an opera for the first time, I can’t recommend enough that you buy a CD recording of a performance of the opera and follow along with the libretto once or twice. If I had not “studied” before going, I think I still would have been very impressed by the atmosphere (particularly because it was inside a gem like the Staatsoper), the music, the stage and the performers, but the novelty of all that would have worn off long before the performance ended. To be able to follow along — and to anticipate — is really a big plus and makes it much easier to hold your interest. In fact, our seats did have the little screens that show the libretto (in either English or German), which means I could have followed along fairly well even if I had not studied. But still, the ability to anticipate what was coming up next made it much more rewarding. I studied enough beforehand that I was actually able to think, at points, things like “Oh, I like the part that is coming up — it’s humorous” (such as when I knew the dancing around and goofing off in the garrett in Act 4 were coming up soon.)

Another important thing is to dress comfortably. I was thinking about wearing my suit (something which I don’t need to do at my job and which I hate to do in general), since many people do indeed dress formally for the opera (particularly on this night, since it was the opening of the season), but my wife convinced me to dress “nice” yet more comfortably. That meant, for me, some dark slacks and a button-down shirt — no tie, no jacket (it was a warm night.) Thankfully, I took her advice. I was very comfortable during the 2.5 hours, and yet I did not feel self-consciously under-dressed. We sat in the second row (the tickets were a gift), which upped the ante a bit on the dress code, but still I didn’t feel weird at all. In fact, I noticed that two tourist-looking guys at the end of our row were in jeans. (Funny how “we” humans often feel better as long as we can spot at least one nearby person who offers a more extreme example of something about which we might be self-conscious. Or am I the only one? Should I not have admitted that?)

Finally, though the second row was truly fabulous — I enjoyed looking into the pit and watching the orchestra — I think I would be more likely to recommend sitting at least several more rows back, because the nearness of the orchestra actually overwhelmed the singing a few times from our perspective. I think had we been sitting back a bit, those strong voices would have won out over the pitted orchestra. But where we were, it wasn’t too difficult for the orchestra to drown out the singing now and again. It wasn’t such a big deal, but I think next time I’d rather sit back a bit.

August 26, 2006

Natascha Kampusch — the most coverage I’ve seen of an Austrian story

Posted in Austria, Natascha Kampusch at 8:06 pm by billdawson

There has been an extraordinary human interest story in Austria for the last several days and I am really amazed at the amount of international coverage. A visit to CNN’s Europe news page right now shows that the top story is “8-year kidnap: accomplices hunted“. And a video report by CNN’s Matthew Chance can be viewed here. This video, in which Chance interviews Natascha’s father, is currently the most popular on the site.

The story concerns Natascha Kampusch, an 18 year-old girl who was, until Wednesday, held captive in a small room (people are referring to as a “dungeon” or “cell”) for the last eight years by her abductor. As I came home from work on Wednesday, there were many helicopters in the air, which is rare. I don’t know for certain if they were related to the case, but in fact at that time the police were hunting for her captor after she successfully escaped. As my wife arrived home, she also noted the helicopters and said that the goings on must be about “Natascha”. I had no idea what she was talking about, and she told me the story. The case was huge news when Natascha was kidnapped.

Anyway my point here is not to re-tell the story, which you can find on just about any news site right now, but rather to say that I think this is the most international coverage that I have seen regarding an Austrian (and specifically Viennese) story since living here, with two possible exceptions: the forming of the ÖVP/FPÖ coalition government (which caused Austria to be sanctioned in the EU) and the disaster at Kaprun. Both of those events occurred very early on during my Austrian residency.

Even the local press is taking notice of the international coverage. Die Presse (Austria) has a fairly comprehensive round-up of the scope of the coverage. It begins by mentioning Matthew Chance’s report then lists others. By Thursday (just the day after she escaped), the New York Times, El Pais (Spain), La Tercera (Chile) and Figaro (France) already had stories. Then on Friday basically every newspaper had the story. The Guardian, notes Die Presse, had Natascha’s photo on the front page. The BBC covered the story, and, of course, newspapers in the German-speaking areas had big stories, including Bild (sensationalistic), which had a full page and many photos.

October 27, 2005

Austrian National Holiday 2005

Posted in Austria at 6:41 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

I enjoyed the big parade today as Austria celebrated Nationalfeiertag, which is the office state holiday commemorating the anniversary of the declaration of Austrian neutrality. Today was the 50th anniversary of that event and is also considered the 50th anniversary of the modern-day (i.e., post-occupation) Austrian military. The military put on a great show: almost 100 aircraft, 4200 soldiers, 180 tanks, and heck of a lot more.

I took a few photos. Here’s one of what I think is a Blackhawk flying over the parade route, though somebody please correct me if I’m wrong.


I took only seven photos. You can see them all at Flickr. Someone else took way more photos than I did, viewable also at Flickr. And the ORF (public broadcasting) has, of course, some fantastic photos, because they had a big remote camera way up high zooming along cables. The daily newspaper, Die Presse, also has a nice slideshow.

As always, I enjoyed the flyers the most. Among the helicopters were Blackhawks and Hueys. Among the fighter jets were Drakens (being retired this year), some model of Saab that I cannot remember, F-5 Tigers which Austria is leasing from Switzerland as they wait for their first batch of Eurofighter Typhoons in 2007, and then the Eurofighter Typhoons themselves (obviously from another country since Austria doesn’t have them yet.)

The Eurofighter has gotten a ton of bad press over the years. All the criticism may or may not be justified (or partially so), but I’ll tell you one thing from my little perspective on the ground today: they were awesome!

I was happy to see the Stars and Stripes (with a few Marines) taking part. I took a few videos (crappy ones using the digital camera), including one of the American flag marching past. You can see the Brits and the Russian Federation next to it: nfeirtag1.wmv (2.69 MB).

If you want to see a few different Austrian military uniforms, I slammed some short clips together into one movie: nfeirtag2.wmv (6.10 MB).

Of course the whole time I was thinking more about our own troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. My heroes.

The crowd at the parade in Vienna was enormous. The exhibits on the Rathausplatz and Heldenplatz were interesting and enjoyable. I must hand it to the Bundesheer, they put on a really great show.

One thing was very noticeable, so much so that even my wife — an Austrian — commented on it several times: almost nobody waved their Austrian flags or cheered, despite flags being handed out to everybody along the parade route. That’s quite different from the United States. And though I would like to see the Austrians be a bit more outwardly proud of their Austrian-ness, I recognize and respect the historical reasons why people might tone down their enthusiasm during military parades.

July 5, 2005

Austria gets Iranian tongue lashing

Posted in Austria, Iran at 10:10 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

The reputable and freely-elected government of Iran apparently called in the Austrian ambassador to complain about reports from Austria that the president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may have been involved in the 1989 murder of three Kurds in Austria.  From Die Presse:

[Green Party MP Peter Pilz] apparently passed on a statement from an Iranian exile in France, with whom he has contact, to the [Austrian anti-terrorism office], Pilz said at a Tuesday press conference. According to this witness, Ahmadinejad belonged to an operations commando that carried out the assassinations.