"Iran??? 2009" story # 3

Neusiedl am See, Austria           April 28, 2009

It'd been once I got to Vienna that most of my problems began.
     Most travelers, I think, undergo crucial moments of uncertainty during the early stages of their expeditions. "Is all this difficulty worth it? ... Was I right to leave behind comfort, my own kitchen, friends? ... Maybe I should go back?"
     My plan for Vienna - only 150 miles away from my "comfort" and Klara Sigmundova's home-cooked cheesy onion soup in the Czech Republic - was to arrive, locate and buy a Persian-English dictionary, and get out.
     But, after four days of looking, I hadn't located the dictionary, and my back was in pain from hauling my heavy bags everywhere. I was in a village just south of Vienna; and I couldn't even find a place to camp. I walked a bit. I put my bags down and sat on them. I picked them up. Walked a bit further. Put my bags down and sat on them. I was destitute. Pathetic. Directionless.
     Luckily, when I went into a church library to use the bathroom, someone closed and locked the building from the outside. Ah ha! I had my own, comfortable building for the night! I listened to the musically and lyrically fantastic album, "Po-ticho", by the Czech band, Priessnitz.

"I'm still standing on my feet.
I'm not on my knees yet ...
"I'm still standing on my feet.
I'm not on the ground yet ...
"I'm still standing on my feet.
I still have strength
to order myself a shot
and light a cigarette.
"I'm still standing on my feet.
I'm not under the table yet."
- translation, from Priessnitz's "Neboli"

I couldn't leave Vienna without getting that English-Persian dictionary.
     I was optimistically on the road to Iran. It was going to be a long road; a road through countries I'd been to before and wasn't that excited about. But, if, using a dictionary, I could write in my journal in Persian every day, it would add a fresh and exotic element to my routine, and the hitchhiking would become more fun as well.
     Unfortunately, as I was enjoying the church and its "comfort", I tried sleeping on a couch that was too short, and pulled a back muscle. Ow, ow!
     I let myself out a window in the morning.
     And in the evening, I bought a Persian-English dictionary, an English-Persian dictionary, and a Persian book of fables, in Vienna's only Iranian-owned bookstore, which was open 7.5 hours weekly, or approximately 160 hours less than the corporate internet bookstores I was trying to spite, walking all over Austria to give business to the "little guy". I was going to sleep well that night, even without the tiny couch, knowing my thirteen Euro's would buy political exile Afshin a little more tea for his samovar. Ha ha; Amazon-dot-who!?
     ... Ohh, my back hurt. Was all this difficulty really worth it!? What was I trying to do to myself, hitchhiking 150 miles in only eleven days? I needed a break from the road and my travel ambitions. Luckily, there was a "burn-out syndrome" rehab center on a lake not far from Vienna. I decided I'd go there immediately and camp near it.
     (I camped near the lake, so-named the Neusiedler See, not near the rehab center.) This two-meter-deep lake sprawled out, in a large basin surrounded by modest hills. The lake, itself, was surrounded by watery marsh-land, a quiet bike trail, soccer fields and tennis courts, and schools, a strip of farmland farmed by many different owners, and modern villages. Camping near the marshland, I saw deer, ducks, snakes, pheasants, and a hedgehog.
     And I pondered my trip to Iran. I had problems: heavy bags, an aching back, a wobbly wisdom tooth, torn and faded clothes, and five broken zippers. I considered all my alternative options, and realized I had none.
     Well, none had the meaning of a trip to Iran. And as I pondered, I began using Persian.
     I'd already studied the grammar, an hour a day for two weeks, using a dusty book called, "Persian Grammar," which, to be honest, wasn't that exciting.
     But, now, I was writing in Persian. I wrote from the right to the left, using Arabic symbols. Some symbols curved. Some looped. Some boomeranged, stylishly. Some sailed like boats. Some tilted. Others resembled happy whales. Some zagged. Some hooked. Some connected to the next letter in the flowing calligraphy. Others needed to be followed by a space. Many wore cute dots, above or below them.
     My favorite word was, "chashm" (eye). Its first two letters, "ch" and "sh", with three dots apiece, were some of the most dotted letters in Persian. Thus, when I wrote about a German girl in Vienna, "chashmhaa zarad daarad" (She has yellow eyes), I was pretty excited.
     I also read in Persian. It took me a few days to figure out that the title of my book was, "Zehaag and the Dervish". At that point, I'd already read a few paragraphs. Here's my understanding of the first sentence I ever read in Persian: "Thousands of years before (something indecipherable) our country Iran Land, in a foreign land a kingdom (something) wine made to cailing (big man?), so that from (something) (greyhounds?) was." It only took me thirty minutes to understand the sentence that well. Man, was I excited!
     As I read and wrote, my understanding of the difficult language improved rapidly. I now knew that Zehaag was either a king, a prince, or a man who wanted to become king, and his acquaintance was about to let him in on "the secrets of the world." By golly, Persian was thrilling.
     Recently, though, someone pointed out that I was in Austria. And, wouldn't it be wiser if I was learning German?
     My interactions with the German-speaking people had been pretty limited. But, I did notice that Austria was very expensive; there were tons of convertibles and Mercedes' and BMW's; and, according to many lamenting young people, Austrians were very nationalistic.
     My relations with the people were warm and friendly. There were two highlights:
     1. The Neusiedler See was in a region of Austria called Burgenland. Supposedly, this region had friendly people, and they liked tradition. I was at a party, and some boys announced they wanted to sing folkloric songs. They sang with seriousness, with their hands on each other's shoulders, or on their own hearts; they sang for their wine-harvesting ancestors.
     The first song, they said, was called "True Friendship." The second was a love song, called "The Farmer's Daughter." The third song made no sense, they said, and it began, "Oh, down in Africa, there lived a pepper ..." The last song, apparently, was about a girl, and it described how young and pretty she was, and it told of how a fisherman took her out in his boat to kill her.
     2. Twenty-four-year-old Andrea from Germany had yellow eyes, a chubby countryside smile, and alcohol in her. We and some of her friends were walking near block-sized, unfriendly Viennese buildings at four a.m. She pointed at me and said, "Sing!" I sang a high-energy song, "De Musica Ligera," by Soda Stereo. She playfully repeated the Spanish lyrics after me. When I started to imitate the song's rocking guitar chords, she was pleasantly surprised and giggled adorably.
     ... Seemingly, I'd had enough of a break from the road. If I could, I was going to try to move on towards Iran. I was just going to get rid of some of the things from my backpack first, and then, while traveling, stop and smell the spring lilacs often.

Modern O.

Thanks to Janoust'ak, Klara, & Janoustakova; Vlast'a; Robo; Josef; Rashum Singh; Loca; Linda; and Agosh for rides!
Much thanks to Albina, Igor, Katka, & Niki; Jana, Jano, maminka, & Brano; and Marion for places to stay!

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