I was not, by any means, an expert on Austria. But, I was the one and only Modern Oddyseus. So, if I wasn't going to write a MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! about Austria, who was? Arnold Schwarzenegger!? Certainly not. Even with limited knowledge, I was the man for the job.
And so it began. The Top 5 Best Things About Austria!:
-- Ha, ha! Just kidding. I knew enough about Austria to know Austria WASN'T Australia.
the real 1. GRAZ -
Even my parents, in a visit to me and Europe in March 2009, said they liked this town of a quarter-million people. Its long buildings wore playfully carved facades and tasty colors.
-- Oh, no! Schwarzenegger was trying to intercept this list and make it ARNOLD'S TOP 5!!! "Get out of here, Arnold!"
the real 2. BIKE TRAIL AROUND LAKE NEUSIEDLER -
I borrowed Franz's bike once, on a springtime weekday when the natural trail wasn't crowded. When I paused, I was overcome by the sounds of the area. Wind daggered through fields of tall grass. Crows flapped strong wings overhead, and sweet birds hurrayed in bumpy marsh-land. Silently, hawks hunted. And grapevines hung in rows on farmers' lines.
4. ARNOLD'S MUSCLES
-- No, no, no, no, no!
now, the real 4. HOUSES IN VILLAGES SOUTH OF VIENNA -
Square, thick-walled houses occupied mighty spaces. Rich with good years, they sat behind small yards like xenophobic people. Two stories tall, their many eyes were long, thin windows with high ceilings. They wore pink, yellow, or light-blue paint, quiet like their villages.
5. FRIENDLY AND CARING PEOPLE
(LIKE ARNOLD) -- I didn't write that! "Hey, Arnold, go home!"
Ha, ha. It was fun to make fun of musculy people, as long as they weren't within hitting distance. HONORABLE MENTION included tall PINES IN THE ALPS, weighed down with winter snow.
OK. The Top 5 Worst Things About Austria! came next.
1. LOVE FOR THEIR CARS
2. AUSTRIANS DIDN'T TRAVEL MUCH
3. TOO MUCH MONEY
4. EXPENSIVE PUBLIC TRANSPORT -
Even though my friends in Neusiedler am See had money, and even though Vienna was only forty kilometers away, they couldn't go there often without a car because the public transport was amazingly costly.
5. ROMANZA ICE CREAM -
Pretty affordable, a liter of this ice cream cost 1.69 Euro's in any Zielpunkt supermarket. Its chocolate, choco-marzipan, banana-cheesecake, apple-vanilla, and cherry flavors were addictively pleasing. Actually, this ice cream belonged in The Top 5 Best Things About Austria!, but there was no room for it - because Arnold kept butting in. I couldn't control my consumption of it. I ate it when I didn't know what to do. I ate it to become full of fat and immobile. I felt like an alcoholic going to the same sales-clerk to buy beer with his change; but, I was an ice creamoholic in a homeless sweatshirt with unwashed hair paying one-Euro-sixty-nine for ice cream. I was also aware that my shopping at a corporate supermarket was pretty hypocritical, after I said recently I disliked corporate bookstores.
To make my hypocrasy seem small and forgiveable, I wanted to inform that the "bad" HONORABLE MENTION was Austrian-born ADOLF HITLER. So what, if I bought a little corporate ice cream? Huh!?
On the south side of Lake Neusiedler was the land of Hungary, formerly a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By golly, had Austria and Hungary gone different ways since World War II. On the day I left Austria, I stepped off a major European expressway and went to visit rural Hungary.
I traveled to visit a family I'd met in 2007. My powerless road got bullied by fresh, green forest. Old farming equipment worked on generations-old farms near worn-down homes. A heavy, metal bicycle creaked as it went. A heavy, metal, motorized bike looked like it'd been in use since the 1950's. My white- or brown-skinned drivers didn't speak English, nor I Hungarian.
It had been a bit of a risk for me to leave a ride that could've taken me into Serbia, in order to visit a family I wasn't positive was expecting me.
But, the Donko family accepted me happily. The father, behind a bushy beard and glasses, was busy in an apron making ceramic plates. The bright mother took a break and led me into her big, traditionally-decorated home. She gave me red soup with pasta squares and paprika and lots of black pepper in it. She gave me a pie made with rice, meat, cheese, and sour cream.
The funny son, Donko Benedek, took a break from his woodworking shop next door. He was my age but wore a well-groomed beard, glasses, overalls, and a straw hat.
A patriot, he told me the Hungarian language wasn't related to any other language, at least not in Europe. The myth that Hungarian and Finnish were related had been created in the 19th century to confuse Hungarians about their history and therefore strip them of their identity. He showed me a poster of past Hungarian kings, a poster that included the Austrian Hapsburgs. The poster dated back to the 11th century, but their last king who'd actually been a Hungarian had died in the mid-1700's. And Benedek, like many poeple, I believed, had a map of the "bigger" Hungary. The country used to extend in all directions into what were now neighboring countries, and many Hungarians still lived in Transylvania, northern Serbia, and Slovakia.
Actually, all of this was told to me by eighteen-year-old Donko Emese, the family daughter. She was the only English-speaking Donko, or donkey, so she was put to work translating. She and I and Benedek rode clunky bikes over pot-holed streets through the town of Abony, pop. 15,000? Emese had tiny glasses and a long, brown ponytail and a small pink face, and she looked pretty in light jeans, as she signalled with her arm to indicate future turns for cars.
Benedek in his straw hat told me, "It's good when a man finds a home." We stood now amidst the lively green of his garden. He was showing me the home he'd finished building in the last two years. He had a lot to show: a new baby boy; "wall covers" (quilts that hung in the bedroom), hand-knit by his wife, with farm animals on them; a room for his two young daughters, with shelves full of Hungarian fairy-tales; and a lot of land that would yield him tomatoes, green vegetables, peaches, apples, cherries, nuts, etc. He planned to build a house for the fifty hens he hoped to have, and he said the walls of the chickens' house would spiral together to form the room. "Like an igloo," I said. Earlier, he'd listed the "Eskite" people as being relatives of the Huns, and I figured he must've meant "Eskimos".
We sat with Benedek's wife at the table in their big dining-room/living-room. We ate home-made spicy salami, home-made cheese with garlic inside, and bread which had been home-baked by a neighbor. We drank Hungarian soda water.
Emese and Benedek seemed to think the world was worsening, but it could get better if people valued family and traditions more. Emese expressed a lot of worry over the introduction of unnatural plants and crops to Hungarian land.
Benedek sipped wine. I knew he was a big fan of the Hungarian philosopher, Hamvas Bela. I asked, what would Hamvas Bela tell us we should do? Benedek calmly replied. Emese translated. Hamvas Bela would say that, at the end of the day, there'd be only two things: the "good" and the "wine".
Hamvas Bela's greatest philosophical work apparently had "bor" (wine) in the title. I told Benedek I'd try to read it before revisiting them in 2011.
I was happy, as the moon was bright, as Emese and I bicycled back over the pot-holes, through Abony.
bye, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Mile; Listyan; George & Maria; and Viktor for rides!
Much thanks to Donko Karoi, Karolina, Emese, Levente, & "Bodza" for the place to visit!