"Iran??? 2009" story # 4

Neusiedl am See, Austria           May 10, 2009

It wasn't as easy to leave Austria as I'd thought it was going to be.
     One day, I walked through the village of Neusiedl, and then alongside a forested hill full of "garkle!"ing pheasants, and then through fields full of towering fans that collected the wind's energy, and finally through cropland full of long-eared jackrabbits I could chase. But, when I threw my backpack over a fence, in order to get to a rest area for cars on the expressway, yet another zipper on my backpack broke. It seemed I could no longer reliably close it. Hmmm.? So, instead of hitchhiking to Hungary, I returned to Lake Neusiedler to try to fix it.
     Other days, I didn't travel because I was lazy, or it was raining, or I was thinking about going home to Michigan. One day, I didn't travel because my tent stakes broke.
     Boy, I was having a lot of problems. And I really missed America. I actually missed the U.S.A. Or, maybe I was having a lot of problems BECAUSE I missed the U.S.A. Maybe I shouldn't have been traveling?
     Somewhere in Neusiedl am See, I found a copy of Barack Obama's inaugural speech as U.S. president, pinned up for the public. I recorded a quote from it in my "Book of Philosophy":

"we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." - Barack Obama

Hmmm. I wondered what Obama's America was like?
     Hmmm. I thought about things.
     I realized I couldn't allow "going home" to be an option I'd weakly choose just to avoid solving my travel problems. Using the few hundred dollars I had, or my hands, I had to fix or replace my broken things. I had to leave Austria - but not on a plane. I had to become a traveler again; and then, while at full strength, if I decided I WANTED to go home, it'd be all right. Yep. That was how it was going to be. One satisfied spirit for me, please.
     The only thing all this thinking didn't make clear was: how was I going to spend all these unplanned weeks in Neusiedl am See?
     I smelled the spring lilac bushes often. The white lilacs had a soft fragrance, like powdery make-up, a heavy fragrance that embraced and made me sleepy. The purple lilacs had a sharper scent, like berries, a scent that raced through and made me want to sprint or fly and be free.
     I continued reading a Persian fable, "Zehaag and the Dervish." Zehaag's acquaintance turned out to be an apprentice of the devil's. He told young Zehaag that if he wanted to be king and learn the secrets of the world, he had to kill the current king, Zehaag's father. Ambitious Zehaag agreed. Once he became king, he employed a master chef who prepared daily feasts of lamb, gazelle, pheasant, and wine. The master chef, when asked what reward he'd like to receive in exchange for his extraordinary work, said he'd merely like to kiss Zehaag's shoulders. This would be an honor for him. Zehaag agreed to be kissed. The devilish chef disappeared. And then, two snakes began growing from Zehaag's shoulders. Wow! I couldn't wait to see how Zehaag was going to get out of this mess!
     And also, in Neusiedl, I mingled.
     Franz, a twenty-year-old about to graduate from secondary school, taught me an Austrian card game, "Schnapsen." It was played with a 20-card deck, rather than the U.S.'s 52-card deck. The four suits were hearts, bells, flowers, and acorns. Each suit represented one of the four seasons, and on the aces was a woman who looked young in spring but was already an old lady by winter. Franz and his friends played "Schnapsen" and drank local wine from Burgenland, almost every night in their favorite cafe. They loved their home town.
     Otherwise, the Burgenlanders' houses and lifestyle and interests seemed remarkably similar to Americans'. It felt like home, except the people weren't wearing navy-and-yellow University of Michigan sweatshirts, and they thought the Neusiedler See was a "big" lake.
     Matthias was the guy I learned the most from. The pale-skinned, black-nest-haired, twenty-year-old son of a diplomat, he was charismatic because he was passionate about many things. He picked me up at my tent near the marsh-land, drove me to his well-aired home, and cooked lunch for us and his mom. Afterwards, he said I could use his internet if I needed to.
     But, in two hours, I barely wrote two e-mails, because he kept wanting to tell me about the things he loved: music and films. He liked experimental music. He was very interesting, because he'd deeply researched all his favorite bands.
     His favorite band was Tool, from California. This heavy band featured hard and irregular drum beats, and a lead singer whose voice tore as if he was suffering maximum anger and agony. Matthias pointed out that the band's lyrics, "He had a lot to say. He had a lot of nothing to say. We'll miss him," were about the founder of the religion, scientology. Matthias said one of Tool's biggest influence was the late comedian, Bill Hicks, and he played me some of Hicks' comedy.
     Hicks swore confidently and mercilessly mocked fundamentalist Christians. In one memorably shocking piece, he spoke for two minutes about how anyone working in marketing or advertising should've seriously killed himself now.
     Matthias' second favorite band, Porcupine Tree from Britain, played fourteen-minute songs that grew soft so it could "set the mood" with bleeping, synthesizer sounds. The third-favorite band, Dredg from San Francisco, liked to write Eastern-sutra-like stories about spiritual journeys or dream cycles, then write music based on them.
     My Austrian friend - in-between cigarettes - explained the album, "Pretty Hate Machine", by Nine Inch Nails. He said it was an album about a relationship that had ended, though the main character still wanted his girlfriend back. The fourth song, "Sanctified", was the only one about the sex between the main characters. Set to soothing, futuristic factory music, the singer's yelling voice whined:

"If she says come inside,
I will come inside
for her.
"I am justified
I am sanctified
... by her." - Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails)

Matthias had seen most of these bands at music festivals. I was a bit surprised that young Austrians from such clean surroundings would want to spend three days in a tent amidst dirty, drunken crowds. But, the festivals in Burgenland were very big. And perhaps I ought to go to one some day?
     Matthias mentioned a quote from the sci-fi Russian movie, "Stalker." It called music, "the most illogical of the arts," because people couldn't really explain WHY they liked certain sounds.
     I knew Matthias had just begun taking "Film Studies" at a university. I asked if he was going to one day make films. He said he hoped so. I figured he might one day make something very progressive and insightful.
     He drove me back to my tent.
     The next day, possessed, void of thought and ego, I marched to an old boat, so I could hide some things I didn't need beneath it. It was at least the fourth time I was getting ready to leave Austria ...

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