New Blog Name

I have decided to try out a new site name for my blog; you may have noticed it: The Wandering Austrian. The URL stays the same, and I might change the title again, but I felt a change was in order. “Austrian in California” was a great fit when I started the blog as I focused on the experience of living in the US and visiting Austria from time to time, but since then I have started to explore other topics especially as I lived for a few months in Italy. Since my blog postings were often no longer about Austria or California or the clash of these two specific cultures, the original name of the blog seemed to limit me. I had ideas for new postings, but they often did not seem to fit the original title and concept of the blog.

The new title hopefully illustrates that postings will be more diverse and focus on more than just two cultures. Thank you to my friend Heather for coming up with the new title and letting me use it.

In keeping with the new name, you may have already noticed a couple of postings about Italy recently, where I will be for the next month.

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Shutters in Bologna, Italy

Not Your Typical Lecture Hall or Library

I have spent plenty of my time in lecture halls/rooms on a college campus since I teach, but I teach at an institution that is barely older than I am (and no, I am not that old). So the buildings are nothing exciting – they are clean, they are practical, and they do their job, but they are definitely not memorable or give the impression that one is at a special place of learning. It is of course unfair to compare a college barely out of its infancy to the oldest university in the Western world, Bologna, but it is hard not to.

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and was home to some very famous students such as Erasmus and Copernicus. The schools and venues of the university were scattered across town, but in the mid-16th century, the Palazzo dell’ Archiginnasio became the first permanent seat of the university until 1803 (when it moved to Via Zamboni, where it is still today).

Today, the Teatro Anatomico is a big tourist attraction, but oh, how exciting it would be to teach in this classroom (even though I do not teach biology, medicine, or dissection). The building was damaged during WWII but was rebuilt with mostly original materials it seems.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall for human dissections in oldest university in Europe.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall where the first human dissections in Europe took place.

Another lecture hall in the same building is Sala dello Stabat Mater; it is still used for talks and lectures today, and old decorations clash with modern chairs, screen, and projector.

The palazzo is also home to the city library, Biblioteca Comunale, which is really a working library and does not allow entry to  tourists but only to serious library users.

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Page of the medical book by Lucantonio Giunta from the mid-sixteenth century on how to take care of fractures.

Just across the square Piazza Maggiore is another gorgeous library that is just a “normal” city library used by residents. Biblioteca Salaborsa is a gorgeous, multi-story building in Art Nouveau style; it was once a botanical garden, military training ground, basketball court, and the Stock Exchange.

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Biblioteca Salaborsa inside the former Stock Exchange in Art Nouveau style

It was built on Roman and medieval structures, which can be viewed through the glass floor of the library or walked through on the lower level.

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The glass floor of the Biblioteca Salaborsa shows excavations of medieval and Roman settlements.

I love libraries anyway, but these environments are even more exciting. I wonder if students or library users are/were  inspired by the environment or whether it was just another building to be in to reach one’s goal.

Street Art in Bologna, Italy

Bologna, also known as the Red City, is famous for its many rust-colored buildings, small alleyways, and of course porticoes, and even though the town has plenty of old-time charm, it also offers plenty of modern street art in some parts of town. Many of the pieces are large and intricate and much more than a quick tag and dash (although there are plenty of tags around the city as well).

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A small street with the typical architecture and already some graffiti.

Many of the pieces I found in the university quarter of town are large and intricate:

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Many of the pieces are entertaining and do not offer political comments (at least not as far as I could gather):

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The piece is close to four meters tall.

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A large doorway enhanced by art.

However, some pieces do seem to include more obvious messages, which were still lost on me (but I did appreciate the details in the pieces):

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Several pieces spell their message out rather clearly:

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Technology is phallocentric

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While many of the pieces are painted or sprayed onto the walls and doors,  a few of the pieces are also pasted and hung like wallpaper:

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And then there are murals that cover half a building/block:

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If you are in Bologna, look for more than old churches and palazzi. As I explore more parts of the city over the next few days and weeks, I am curious to find out if more large-scale art pieces exist outside of the university quarter.

Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

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The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.

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Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

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Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

Thanksgiving Alfresco and “Stray” Aliens

Another November in Northern California, and another reminder how amazing the weather is here. While I see postings about European Christmas markets opening up and about snow angels in the northern parts of the US, I am able to have Thanksgiving dinner outside. Sure, we are not quite as lucky as those in Southern California and still need a jacket once the shadows get longer and the sun sets, but it is still unfathomable to me that I can actually sit outside for hours and be comfortable at the end of November.

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Abundance: Under an Orange Tree

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Tea by the Fire Pit

 

Even though I do not have a close connection to Thanksgiving since I did not grow up with this tradition, I have become rather fond of this holiday by now; what is there not to like when it is mostly about giving thanks and of course food – and more food – and then even more food.

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Turkey on the BBQ

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Pie Buffet: Banana, Pecan, Blueberry, Apple, and Pumpkin (under the Glass)

Even though some dishes are traditional and expected at Thanksgiving, most families also seem to include at least one dish connected to their ancestors; American Italians, for example, seem to serve ravioli, and our Thanksgiving dinner included sauerkraut and Polish sausages.

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Sauerkraut and Polish Sausages

As a foreigner/alien without a large family nearby, I have been invited for several years now by American friends that lay out one of the largest spread for the dinner (made from scratch). All I need to do is show up, bring appetite, and take leftovers home (and I don’t even need to bring any boxes for the leftovers). I jokingly observed that I have been taken in like a stray kitten, and like with any stray cat, once fed, I am hard to get rid off and come back again and again.

 

Over the years as I moved from country to country and continent to continent, I have often been invited to share holiday traditions and meals with locals. Thank you to all those who take in those “stray” aliens without family nearby during holidays.

 

How to Illustrate an Austrian in California

In a literature class we have been discussing images and symbols, and students created symbolic self-portraits and tried to show their interests, desires, fears, and traits with visuals only (no words allowed). This got me thinking about a visual representation of an Austrian in California when I came across this photo opportunity.

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Not many pictures can so clearly express Austrian in California than an Austrian-Bavarian dancer in lederhosen eating a burger at In-N-Out. Well, I guess I could have asked him to stand up so the short lederhosen are completely visible or asked him to put on the traditional hat with the eagle feather; and I could have hoped for a surfer walking past in the background or at least a palm tree visible through the window. So there is room for improvement and a reason to keep looking for an even better illustration of the concept of an Austrian in California.

In case you are curious, In-N-Out Burger is a fast-food chain founded in California in 1948 and still limited to the West Coast of the States, so it is often associated with California. When I was in Italy this spring, an In-N-Out burger with extra sauce was really the only food I missed after a while and was looking forward to when coming back to California. Some argue that In-N-Out is all a hype and not that great, but it does seem to get associated with California usually (read about the hype in this article about Hillary Clinton stopping at an In-N-Out – although I am not sure why this is newsworthy). And in case you are wondering why one runs into a guy in Bavarian/Austrian outfit in Northern California, the answer is that Oktoberfests with traditional dancers are becoming more and more popular on the West Coast as well.

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Traditional Bavarian Dancers at an Oktoberfest at the Budweiser Brewery in Fairfield, CA