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Thursday, April 28, 2016

My impressions about Vienna

I believe that when we visit a place, we bring a unique perspective with us. And no matter how many people have been there before us, how many travel logs we read or shows we watch - when we experience something with our senses first-hand, we form impressions that are truly ours.

Most of us are no different from Columbus or Neil Armstrong- the first stranger in an alien land. The small town girl who marvels at the city lights for the first time, pilgrims who make arduous journeys overseas, the foodie who seeks to taste exotic flavors in foreign lands, even the mother who finds the courage to visit her children settled abroad after having spent her whole life in the same neighborhood. We are all explorers. Maybe not celebrated or renowned, but in no small measure either.

One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is to walk in it. I use Google Maps on my phone to get a general direction of my destination, then grab my camera and some comfortable shoes and set out. It is best if the weather is sunny and breezy, but a light drizzle never mars my spirits. You can take some amazing pictures of an overcast sky, which you would miss on a sunny day.

Pictures on an overcast/rainy day 

Inside St. Peter's Church

During the cab ride from the airport to our hotel, I had glimpses of the monumental buildings in the city. Some of the most noteworthy buildings include the Parliament, City Hall (built in Flemish Gothic style ), the Burgtheater (New Baroque) the State Opera, the University, and the Museum of Natural History(Neo-Renaissance). Dramatic figures in marble abound.

 Statue of Hercules bashing Antaeus

You will also find Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, in a gilded helmet and armor, standing on a pillar, guarding the parliament.

The first thing I tasted upon arrival was Weiner Schnitzel (Weiner=Viennese, Wein=Vienna, German). Traditionally, it is thin, breaded and pan-fried veal, often served with parsley potatoes. Another favorite I discovered was an apricot filled ice cream with hazelnut crust (Eis Marille Knödel) from Tichy Saloneis. Don’t try it from anywhere else. They make them fresh that don’t freeze your teeth like the knockoffs.

City folks in traditional Austrian clothes

We chanced upon a weekend market at Rathaus Platz and tasted some local Austrian beer, ripe cheese, and wine. The people were enjoying their weekend. Kids played in areas inside straw bales while the parents chatted away. Some of them wore traditional Austrian clothes: Girls in Dirndl and guys in Lederhosen. It is the clothing of Alps country folks/peasants and often seen in Austria, Germany, and some parts of Italy.

I had a chance to visit the History of Art Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum), Leopold Museum, and Belvedere Gallery.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a palatial building on Ringstraße and is the current domicile of several art collections & antiquities. Tablets with information on the artifacts are available on benches on one side of the room. The museum is huge and anything less than 3 hours would be criminal. I hope to go back again someday. I have missed the Natural History Museum, Albertina, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.

Men dressed in Mozart tout tickets to tourists for concerts at Museumplatz. A friend said that they sold bogus tickets meaning to rip off the uninformed. What surprised me was that they were doing it right in front of uniformed police officers. Maybe some of their business is legit.

Leopold Museum houses modern Austrian art, featuring artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Richard Gerstl. Though I find the work and life of modern and contemporary artists fascinating, I am slightly partial to classical art.

The Belvedere was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Cameras are not allowed inside the exhibits except for a dedicated selfie point and the marble work on the ceilings. However, you can take as many shots of the spectacular view of the city from the entrance.

One of the most interesting things we did was take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city from Michaelplatz. You may make a special request for a ‘porcelain ride’ that was used to transfer porcelain in earlier days. The slow tread of the horses is so relaxing you will want to do it all day.

We spent some good days in the city. Dinner with friends, walks after dinner, coffee shops that are open past midnight. A special shout to Gautam Mama and Gopa Mami for all their love and attention. They took us to Schönbrunn Palace gardens and Donau Tower that offers a 360 degrees view of the city.

I fell in love with you Vienna. Can’t wait till we meet again.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Breaking point

A family tragedy
When I was about 11 years old, a suicide in the family left us in shock. I saw my mother break down and cry like I had never seen before. My father was fighting hard to hide his tears as he walked out of the house to arrange to get possession of the ‘body’ of the deceased for the family to pay respects and to mourn. Later, I heard that he had carried the head of the corpse on his lap during the 1.5 hours drive back home.

I had met the person some days earlier. He had been nice and had greeted me with a hello I will never forget. It was tragic, of course. Everyone felt guilty for not having seen it coming. Then came the rage- blaming him for being so selfish, for leaving behind two kids who were younger than me, for abandoning the poor patients he had been treating gratis. I am sure that one thing was common for everyone- they kept thinking what they could have done differently to have saved him from hanging himself on a cold January morning.

However, the tragedy brought the family together. We didn’t take each other for granted anymore. For a while, at least. But I am not sure if anyone could have stopped what had transpired. Nobody knows for sure the threshold where an otherwise healthy person just snaps and decides to give up on the world.

Usual reasons
I suspect that it is usually from a sense of deep personal or professional failure that drives people to the edge. A very promising student was found cheating in his exams and was suspended to take his boards for two years. I heard that he later tried to consume phenyl to end his life. Though he survived the attempt, I was left wondering if anything I could say that time would change his grim view of life. He’d have to fight his own battle and come out strong, which I am happy to say he did. We lost touch for a few years, but when we connected again- my respect for him had not diminished in any way as a batch mate. 

Loneliness is another factor that often drives someone into taking extreme measures. Having lived through days when I had to wake up to the same four walls every day with no idea of what the future might hold, I know it can be a very debilitating and emotionally exhausting. Not sensing a purpose of life, facing a terminal/incurable disease or an unfaithful spouse can make Pagliacci cry. 

A few things that worked for me
I have always believed that it is better to hurt back than to end your life for being emotionally bruised. Rage is better than self-loathing. But hatred is a heavy burden to carry. It wears you down and makes you unhappy.

I have found a very simple solution for self-preservation. If someone makes me unhappy more than I care to admit, I give a little space for that person to realize what they have done wrong. The friend who takes a refusal too personally or the relative who never thought you would amount to anything- unkind people will always inhabit the world. More than anything, it is their unhappiness that makes them so. The wise thing to do would be to move on. Honestly, no one can not fix everything and everyone. And if you try to, when would you have the time to create happiness for yourself and others?

When I felt that I was not finding value in my work, I started volunteering. There are billions of people in this world. It is enough to make just one good friend. It helps if you have several. If not a friend, at least, someone you can talk to. Even charmers can be lonely because they never have an authentic dialog. Their objective is to seduce you with their words, not have an honest conversation. 

The least we can do is be honest with ourselves. If we know what we truly seek, we can focus our energy in pursuing that goal. Keeping busy helps. I find myself too exhausted to mull over negative things when I am chasing a personal deadline. As kids, we were often advised to have several hobbies. I write a lot when I am unhappy. It is a way of expressing my frustration. I try to paint. I like to experiment in my kitchen. I try not to care what opinion others have of my creation because it is something I do for myself: fill my time with the therapeutic ritual of making cursive notes on paper, brushstrokes on canvas, chopping vegetables.

Sharing our woes with the world also makes us realize that we are not alone. PostSecret gave me more anonymous friends than I can count. Telling my tale with their words, healing my wounds with their accord. Though I don’t visit it as often anymore, I’d advise anyone having the blues to check the page out.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. You have not been defeated until you have given up on life. At times, I felt the darkness close in on me. Hopelessness would engulf me like a monstrous cloud, dampening my spirits. Then I sought for light within. I played a game with myself –making a list of places I want to visit; things I want to do before I die. Sometimes, I even imagined I was far, far away from my troubles- in a world of relatively more happiness. (I am a realist- perfect happiness doesn’t exist.) I visualized a picture of my happy elements. When I was single, I imagined a man who’d value me for the person I was and would love me like I were a princess who deserved the best. And I did find that guy. Rather he found me.  I think I dreamed him into life.

Also, it is not essential to share your life with someone. A spouse or a good friend is just someone you can count on. But if you are not happy with yourself, you can never give happiness to others. And then you’d have nothing even if you had it all. Don’t let yourself become that bitter person who finds fault with everyone. Try to focus on the positive. After all, we are not perfect ourselves.

Recommended further reading: Why complaining is killing you