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Orion update

Thomas (with my consent) has decided to get Orion. He has spent eight of his ten years at the Tierschutzheim and deserves a retirement home. And — it seems he likes Thomas and even Mischa. A short — and boring — movie of their first meeting will follow once I get my act together to edit it (that thing about time again).

Yes, we know eight years is a long time for a dog to spend locked up in an animal shelter. Yes, we know there will be a lot of work to do. We also know we are not gods.

But we’re damned close.

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I have three articles hanging over me for translation from Norwegian to English and I keep running out of time. Thomas and I — with the additional help of Thomas’ sons Brian and Pascal — finally repainted the living room (which looks fan-bloody-tastic), but there is still a lot I would like to do here and I keep running out of time. And the whole thing of running out of time has become a constant theme in my life.

At work my cup of work runneth over all the time. I have lots of little niggly things to do that all need to be done yesterday and then there are deadlines to meet, and they just have to be met, and then I need to walk Mischa, get a dress fitted, ride my bike in readiness for a long bike trip to Germany in May, do my tax returns for some European country (I’m getting confused here — where do I tax to and why?), eat — oh my NED I haven’t eaten today! — remove the forest on my legs, groom Mischa, do the dishes, learn German, shave my armpits (ok, that’s a lesser problem), shop! the fridge is empty again! apart from that cheese which has turned into a little colony of weirdly squeaking little beings of some kind and have to be hosed out, and then there was that thing about clean clothes and a wash basket full of anything but clean clothes.

Today I had an appointment with Humpty Dumpty who gave me the all clear after the operation — I am fit as a fiddle, as normal as women can be when they’re essentially nuts — and can go ahead and have a baby if I want. Right.

And after that Thomas and I headed out to Wiener Tierschutzverein (the animal protection league) to meet Orion. A dog Thomas found on their list of dogs up for adoption last year but was too late to get. Orion was, however, returned by his new owner and the time had come for Thomas to meet him. And since any addition to Thomas’ life also has to get on with me and Mischa, I had to see him too.

Orion is 9 years old, like Mischa, but that is more or less where comparisons have to end. We were taken by the dog handler to a separate area where he could be off the lead and there he ran around like a giraffe on speed, ecstatic to be out of his pen. We ignored him as much as he ignored us at first and talked to the handler about him. Got some background, a description of his personality, a little information about his return to the dog-home — and then we convinced her to take his muzzle off so he could play properly. And before long he brought the toy back to Thomas to throw instead of to the handler. Small victory number one. Then he suddenly ran to me with the toy. Small victory number two. And he kept running to me, probably because Thomas was still busy getting background and I was paying more attention. And then I motioned for him to bring the toy to Thomas instead which he immediately did. So for a dog that’s been institutionalised for a long time I’d say he did really well.

When we got back, Mischa suddenly looked like a small, fat dog… Orion was a good 15-20 cm taller than Mischa, and slim! and moved as if on springs. Very elegant. Alsation mix with “Windhund” — a Greyhound-type dog. But not the cuddly type like Mischa. We’re hoping that opposites attract and that the two will get on when they meet. And we hope Orion will decide that he wants to be with us. Because it is his decision. Not ours. It is important that he feels safe with us so we can work through whatever problems he might have and provide a good home for him to spend his twilight years.

That said, Mischa needs a groom and a bath (yes Mischa, you heard me — a bath!) because we are going to a confirmation on Saturday and right now he’s somewhat mucky and smelly. And of course it’s spring so he moults a lot. Ok, world’s oldest puppy! Groom time!

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January/February is the ball season here in Austria. Huge, lavish balls are arranged — the Opernball being the most famous event — and tiny far less lavish and more pedestrian versions, but no less fun, are also held in localities as varied as castles, hotels and the Staatsoper (State Opera) to your local school gym with its lurching smell of sweat and mouldy showers.

I never really thought I’d attend a ball. The ones worth attending are somewhat exclusive with a price tag to match, and of course you need not just a suitable outfit but also to know a minimum of standard dances. When Thomas asked me to attend two balls with him I realised I was not equipped in either department. Being a former dancer does not qualify you in the ballroom category.

Shopping for a dress I put to the back of my mind as I dislike that sort of shopping almost as much as I dislike alcopops, and if I didn’t think about it it might just go away. So first we concentrated on getting me up to scratch on a few basic dances.

Thomas already knows it all, and he had a DVD which clearly demonstrated the steps and also provided suitable practice music.

The dance I was most eager to have down well was the Viennese Waltz (a bit obvious 🙂 ) and so we took our positions and waited for the music to start. Then Thomas decided that I should not have my back to the TV screen and in one swift move lifted my right arm and pushed it back to turn me around. And this is the one time I can tell you that a dance background with a lot of stretching IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU because my shoulder snapped right out of its joint as if it was never hinged there in the first place.

WHOAH!! Pain!

Well, as the show must go on we managed to get it back in and even do our practice session. Thomas was not allowed to touch my right arm, though. He was silly enough to twitter about it and was called a barbarian at work for a couple of weeks after that — well-deserved if you ask me. Yes, yes, I twittered about it too. But nobody at my job reads my tweets, so that’s ok. And I am of course still taking the piss out of him for his brute force several weeks later.

We did in all manage to get through a few basic dances. But then came the REAL challenge. The ballgown. I only have a saree, and though I love that as much as any woman can love a gorgeous outfit I could not wear it for both balls. It’s just too — different. And would be noticed as a lot of the same people attend the same two balls we were going to. So we went to a ballgown/wedding dress place where my face turned grey at the thought of trying on any of the (to me) hideously OTT dresses and I made an attempt at escaping almost as soon as I set foot in the place. Had it not been for Thomas urging me to at least try a couple and grabbing one of the shop assistants for me I would not have tried on anything at all. And probably have gone to the second ball wearing jeans.

A changing cubicle was eventually procured and hideous dress after hideous dress was sent my way. I had instructed NO STRAPLESS DRESSES I HAVE NO BOOBS TO HANG ONE ON. I also made it clear that I would not wear purple as all others seemed to wear that, and not black or red and not PINK FOR GAWD’S SAKE NO PINK and… You name it, I had all the NOs ready. After going through a hellish number of blue dresses that all made me look dreadfully middle aged and shapeless, the assistant breathed that she was out of blue and would I mind trying something else? I quipped “green”. She turned up with a green dress with a lace bodice. It was hideous. And strapless. And didn’t fit. But the waist seemed to be on the right track. The assistant took one look, disappeared and returned with a black dress and a brief instruction: “Probieren Sie’s nur.”

So I tried. A size 32 black ballgown, strapless, tight bodice, long skirt… and when I straightened up to look in the mirror I had that Cinderella moment when I thought “this dress is perfect” and I totally felt like a princess. Thomas peeked in, looked me up and down and — grinned. As did I.

Our first ball was the Schwebach Ball. And this is one of the big ones with about 3000 participants. The saree was put to good use since the new dress was too long and had to be taken up. And as I’d put off getting it for so long there wasn’t enough time to have it shortened before this ball. I can assure you I was the only Norwegian there wearing a saree. I only saw one other person who went slightly outside the mould, a guy in a kilt. I did not check to find out if his Scottish connection was as far-fetched as my Indian one.

Can you pick me in the crowd? Yes! Purple saree!

Can you spot me? Yes! Purple saree!

Standard dances and sarees aside, I have never seen so many ill-fitting dresses and so many bizarre waddlers on six different dance floors. Occasionally, there would be a stylish couple that were both well-dressed and good dancers but mostly I was a little surprised at the lack of style for such a stylish city as Vienna. But it was fun! And it was wonderful seeing how the Viennese were letting their hair down en masse and just dancing/waddling the night away. Sometimes they can be so dreadfully stuck up. But there was nothing stuck up about this. And there were all-night events including breakfast. If you want to go to one of these balls you have to start training well in advance and make sure you get plenty of sleep before the big do itself. I don’t recommend having your arm pulled out of joint as part of the preparations.

Ball two was that kind I mentioned above — the smaller kind in a school gym. And it was time for the ballgown, now the perfect length thanks to one of the many eminent Turkish tailors in Vienna. But a gown such as that requires the wearing of a bra. And I had no strapless bras. What I had was one of those idiotic stick-on bras — strapless and backless. The kind that is meant to be glued to your body with some sort of double sided tape. In some ways the perfect thing. Except that it had been lying around for a while and the glue-stuff wasn’t all that sticky anymore and so the whole thing just dropped off. And I had no additional double sided tape.

However, I did have gaffa tape. Black, ugly and very sticky gaffa tape. Oh come on! At least give me credit for not using super glue! The damned backless-strapless bra stayed on. In the course of the evening the tape gave off a bit of a strange smell but THE BRA STAYED ON. And that was the purpose of the exercise. Though I must admit that the removal of the tape on return home was not one of my more delightful experiences. I resorted to heptane (Benzin — purified petrol) to dissolve the sticky mass and went from smelling of slowly melting gaffa tape glue to BP.

But while at the ball, and as long as no one stepped close enough to inhale the fumes, I was the Princess of the Ball. Honest, guv’! 🙂

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I tried. I really tried, and it turned into two weeks of hell. Then I caved, went to my doctor, cried, and am now back on full dosage of anti-depressants with an agreed time frame and fully supported slow cutting down and cutting out over the summer months.

I’m not going to go into the details of how I felt and blahblah, there are enough people around who already do that and it’s not all THAT fascinating. And I don’t feel all that sorry for myself. I just feel a little silly. And that’s not the world’s best feeling either but it’s better than being dead. (Insert melodramatic music here.)

Christmas was good. Had a quiet dinner with Thomas on the 24th, and on the 25th we joined forces with his kids, the oldest boy’s girlfriend, and Louise with partner and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening which ended in a somewhat painful to the ears evening of karaoke. And two dogs that did their best to ignore each other once they’d established their hierarchy. Mischa is not hugely taken with Louise’s partner’s little West Highland terrier. Sorry — that got complicated just because I tried not to use names so from now on I’ll call him Robert. Louise’s partner, that is. Not the Westie. His name is Mickey.

A few days later we (Thomas, kids Mischa and I) went to visit Thomas’ parents. Mischa adores them because they are so easy to train. They have a small house with a garden, and when he goes to the door and barks once one of them immediately opens the door so he can go out. When he a few minutes later wants to come in again he only has to bark once more and the door is opened by his obedient servant. Again. He finds this highly convenient and wanders in and out as much as is doggumly possible. I think Mischa would have liked a house with a garden — or possibly a forest — and lots of snow for Christmas. And his own butler. Instead he got a load of doggie dental sticks because his breath smells. The snow we got came and went within a week and only left a mess on the roads and salt in his paws. He looks truly miserable when that happens, limps sadly up to me and looks helpless.

Of course I managed to get a bladder infection while in Carinthia. One evening we decided to check out the local watering hole which was a short walk away. Thomas and I being photo-nuts have similar cameras, and suddenly we decided that we had to take pictures of the same thing using various long exposures and we fiddled around with this for so long I must have gotten much colder than I realised. By the next evening I was in such agony a visit to the nearest hospital was needed to get some antibiotics. This is one time I thank my lucky stars I’m a European and that medical service is available to all. Still not the most exciting way to start the new year unless you count the fun of mixing antibiotics, pain killers and Champagne as a good way to celebrate. I do. I could of course have stayed off the booze. Hah! Got you! I’d never do such a silly thing.

Now, to my enormous surprise we’re already in 2010 and I am still rubbing my eyes with disbelief at how time flies. So before it disappears altogether I am going to take His Hairiness for a walk and think about the world and the many people out there that are far worse off than me — that always cheers me up immensely — and see if the homeless guy who sleeps between the recycle bins is still alive.

Happy 2010!

PS My hair is still ugly. But longer, and now back to that desperate red that some of us middle aged women resort to when we can’t afford surgery.

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Chilling blast from the past

So there we were, Mischa and I. Out on that long walk I had promised him for ever so long. And we’d reached that field by Margareten Gürtel between the Burger King and the U4 station. Mischa was having fun biting holes in his latest toy, greeting other dogs and wrestling with me. Along the path running next to the field a group of rather loud teenage boys made their rowdy way towards the Burger King.

Nothing unusual there.

But suddenly the rowdiness broke into a loud chant. A chant I have only heard in films, TV news, read about in history books.

“SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!”

And without hesitating, in total agreement, the group changed the chant to

“HEIL HITLER — DEUTSCHLAND — DEUTSCHLAND — DEUTSCHLAND!”

Back and forth, back and forth until they disappeared into the Burger King.

I doubt they knew the full implications of the chant. But by their age — by the time a boy’s voice breaks — he should know the history of WWII, be thoroughly informed of the horrors of Hitler and his Dritte Reich and the Final Solution, whatever country he is from.

Someone has neglected their duty in teaching those kids history. I don’t know who — I don’t know why. I only know that today, I seriously doubted my choice of new homecountry.

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Monday morning and all is well

It’s a national holiday in Austria. I’m still in bed, Mischa is pacing the flat being bored (I should of course be sensible and jump into my running gear and run around the neighbourhood with him, but…) and I’m having a cup of tea and listening to Radio Wien. Mostly music, not too much of a strain on my German. And yes, I am sitting in bed with my little notebook on my lap Skyping with Thomas who is on a crazy 72-hour call for his job and there has been lots of problems the last 36 hours. Poor man. He’s totally exhausted.

Went to a jazzclub with Kevin last night. Porgy & Bess in the 1st district, where we heard Christian McBride Trio. It was great! And of course when we have to listen we can’t talk too much about things that might be sore… still hurting, both of us.

I can hear Mischa complaining about lack of attention. I guess I should finish my cup of tea, get into that running gear and pretend to be young and fit. And then… The day beckons with a flat that still wants me to pay attention to its ugly walls that desperately need a lick of paint and some pictures. Perhaps I should just paint the whole place white and chuck all my pictures up all over the place? I had great plans to paint the living room blue and make it truly stylish, but I can’t find the EXACT blue I want — except on a Toyota Prius and that’s damned hard to bring to the DIY place as a colour sample especially since I’ve only seen one parked in the neighbourhood and… sorry. I’m rambling. 🙂

Perhaps I will at least paint the toilet.

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I take pictures all the time, but mostly totally harmless, somewhat uninteresting and, well, it stays on my computer. Mostly.

Lately, however, the need to use the power of the image, the power of photography, has reared its ugly head. And I mean ugly. Because I want to use it against some people I am unable to respect or empathise with in any way.

A bunch of Viennese “pro-lifers”.

The only good thing one can say about them is that they are not violent, at least not physically violent. But they hang around outside an abortion clinic near my house, rock back and forth and pray (that rocking… like watching someone brain-damaged banging his head against the wall in frustration). They each display a large colour picture of a featus at eleven weeks. And they all have that shut-off look, the look that tells you that they have had the thoughts they are going to have in this life and nothing, NOTHING is going to change that. Their world is purely black and white.

Oh, if only. If only life was that simple. One right and one wrong and nothing in between.

I’d love to be more open minded than them. I would love to say that I’d be willing to walk that mile in their shoes, that mile they are unwilling to walk in the shoes of the women forced to make that termination decision. But I don’t understand them at all. I don’t understand that need to force their beliefs on someone in an extremely vulnerable position.

If only one could sentence them to work for the people who are already here. For orphans. For homeless people. For battered women. For organisations trying to help those traumatised from sexual and other forms of violence from childhood.

Adding further misery to the life of someone whose already in a miserable situation is nothing short of evil.

Forgive them for they know not what they do. Or do they?

Forgive them for they know not what they do. Or do they?

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Summer is upon me

I’m going on holiday today. Per motorbike. Yes, I have a new bike. A little Kawasaki Ninja 250R. I’ve called her Nina — what else? We’re taking our motorbikes overnight on the train from Vienna to Hamburg, then riding to Copenhagen where we will stay with my cousin and then we go on to Norway. I’m really excited as it makes the travel itself part of the holiday, and it all starts on the train: the most civilised way of travelling!

Over many years of flying here and there I have come to loathe flights. I used to love them, used to love being at the airport early, get the seat of my choice and then wander around the tax free trying all the perfumes until my eyes watered and people took flight before me to avoid the tear gas, sometimes trying various versions of whiskey or gin or whatever they were promoting that day, then going to the technical equipment bit — Dixons or something — and buying something completely useless I could load down my hand luggage with.

When going to Norway I would naturally add some tax free alcohol to the load that was already in my suitcase. That’s just a given. Norway is insanely expensive when it comes to alcohol. As if that stops anyone from drinking. The making of moonshine is something Norwegians are taught in the womb. It’s how we survive the cold. And dark. And the depressions that go with being Norwegian. And yes, everything you’ve heard about Norwegians and alcohol is true.

One Christmas my dad invited Kevin to a morning of manliness with his friends. The guys were going to head into the forest and chop their own Christmas trees. As dad had talked about Kevin, his exotic son-in-law (in the sense that he is not Norwegian), the guys were curious and thought it was was a great opportunity for a bonding session between men. They had not counted on Kevin’s reaction which was “I am not going without Ine”. And that was that. Not up for negotiation. So I was an honorary male among testosterone ridden males with axes.

They had also not counted on Kevin refusing to kill a tree, so I was the one who headed into the freezing forest to find and kill our prey. Which I did with gusto and in record time. And then we all assembled by the cars where it was time for some man-talk and a coffee.

With my history of migraines I turned the coffee down. The bringer of the coffee, however, would have none of it, stating that there was not a lot of coffee in the coffee. And when the “coffee” turned my face a shade of red not before seen in the real world the lads roared with laughter, coffee bringer — the local sheriff — included. It was indeed an illegal substance of little colour but impressive potency. With the sheriff’s blessing, our prey in the trailer and alcohol schlosching around our veins, I got behind the wheel and drove me and Kevin back to the warm house where I spent the rest of the day sobering up.

Not sure I would recommend this experience.

Last night I took Mischa over to his previous home. I had agreed this with Livia who is presently on a hiking holiday, but she had only passed the information on to her mum in her imagination so the agreement came as a bit of a surprise to her. Karin is already taking care of all the kids (4), the other dog Knickers and the cat. Sorry; keep forgetting the cat’s name. I only see the cat in short glimpses when I’m there, between her hesitantly emerging from the shed until she disappears around a corner with Knickers in hot pursuit.

When I got ready to leave, Mischa trailed me with the expectation that he would come too. I cuddled him and said no, he would be staying to have his own holiday with his old family, but the look of loss and bewilderment he sent me was heartbreaking, and the last thing I heard was Karin reassuring him that I would come back for him — “Sie kommt wieder! Dass verspreche ich!”

Today I’m scratching my head trying to squeeze my usual holiday luggage into two small saddelbags and a top-bag. I intend to keep up with my jogging regime, so running shoes and sweatpants etc. have to fit in as well in addition to the thousands of shoes I always have to have, a nice dress, a summer dress, underwear to last, extra — ok, you’ve been there done that yourself so I’ll shut up now. I’ll just reveal that I’m not taking my hairdryer — and that’s a first. Since I will be spending a considerable amount of time with my head in a crash helmet it hardly matters if I blow dry my hair first. It’s gonna look shit regardless. Sorry, mum! This time I will agree without hesitation when you tell me you don’t like my hair. But just wait until 1 March 2011! My hair will be sorted out then.

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S lives in a soap factory

I hate filing systems that include “miscellaneous”. What do you put there?
Anyway, as I was saying, soap. Went to a party last night. Parties on Wednesdays should be outlawed. Especially when one is trying to live a New and Disciplined Life. Yes, I was the one who drank all that wine, no one forced me.

The party was in a soap factory. Um… I may have missed out some information here. First of all, the party was hosted by our business manager in her partner’s flat. She also lives in the same factory… I’ve missed out on some information again. Sorry. S and her partner live in separate flats in the same building. An arrangement I actually rather like. And the building is a former soap factory. And — the place totally defies description.

I think I woke up drunk this morning. I even dragged Mischa jogging in spite of my state, a cross-eyed, staggering jog with a confused set of stretching exercises at the end. At which point Mischa flopped over on his side and fell asleep again. Had to wake him up before I could drag him home. At work I’ve been tweeting incoherently about the most disconnected topics probably irritating the shit out of several of my Facebook friends with the automatic tweet updates. Tweeting is a little like holding a one-way conversation with your own brain while making absolutely no attempt to make sense of it. Rather revealing of the real me.

I’m digressing again.

The soap place was huge and white and the flats enormous open-plan spaces. It’s the kind of place I have always dreamt of having. So I hate them. We spent the evening plotting to kill them and hide the bodies. And then we drank their wine and ate their food. At one point I blurted blatantly to J, S’ partner, “what the hell do you do for a living??” which of course is the kind of thing one doesn’t say so I said it, not knowing that he is an acknowledged painter. And I guess an art collector — half the space was an art-gallery. J assured me that most of the things were of no monetary value, they were just things he had collected on his travels but how do you get twenty clay pots each the size of two basketballs into your suitcase?

It was somewhat like walking into a Woody Allen film with people milling around looking at the art and these enormous abstract oil paintings trying to seem to be holding deeply intellectual conversations while plotting to kill the host in sheer envy.

There were enormous quantities of drink and we totally lost track of how much we had, at least I did, and I know I babbled like a lunatic at everybody about everything and I have absolutely no recollection of what I said, how loudly I said it or who I said it to. So for all I know I may have plotted to kill the host together with the host. In which case I am unlikely to get invited again.

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Spacious luxury!

At the end of May, Louise finished clearing out the “spare room” where she had left all of Max’ stuff after he died in November. It didn’t bother me that it took her a while. Even without that room I felt I had more than enough space. The rooms are large, the ceilings high, the light — exquisite.

However, as of 1 June I had that extra room, and I immediately moved the bed out of the living room and into the (new!) bedroom. I moved a lot of stuff around, and the result is that the entire flat looks empty and there is a slight echo everywhere. I have been offered a lot of stuff to fill the space, stuff I have turned down because I love the emptiness! I so love the space I, for the first two weeks, kept all the doors open and just circled, again and again, admiring the space, the light, the — everything. And it is of course easier to hoover if there are not too many things in the way, and that sort of thing counts when one is sharing a flat with Mischa, the dog that moults for Austria in the Olympics. He is perpetually surprised by my appearing through a different door each time he sees me and can’t quite get the hang of the quickest or easiest route from a to b. He is like Bambi on ice when we play football around the flat; his paws just can’t get a grip on the varnished floorboards and he slides around running into walls and doors.

I did accept one thing to take up a little space. Louise gave me a set of nesting tables which just doesn’t fit in with her taste but which is totally up my street. In walnut tree. Old, fine, light, with spindly legs — just beautiful. I seem to have developed the taste of a little old lady and will soon be putting doilies on everything in sight and little ornaments all over the place and spend all my time dusting them while humming and talking to myself.

I have loads of plans for the space. Not to fill it as such but to make the most of each room with colour, materials, matching the furniture better… which means that some of the IKEA style has to go. It will take time. That’s ok. And one of the first things I’m going to do is build a four-poster bed with Thomas’ help. I’ve looked around on websites and in furniture stores and they are way expensive, so I thought since in general they consist of four poles and some material (very general here), why not just make one? I shall post pictures once it’s done. It is bound to be a huge success.

I’m feeling good these days. I guess the anti-depressants are working. 🙂

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