On Being Bold

Many of you know that I have a fondness for pools. Today, my husband and I decided that we are officially old to go for an early-morning swim. Arrive after noon or 1pm, and it’s impossible to not have a head-on collision in the water get across the pool. In typical bureaucratic fashion For some mysterious reason, 99% of pools in Vienna are closed for most of September and October (probably in order to clean a summer’s worth of crap out of them give the lifeguards some time off). As a result, we’ve been forced to swim at a pool in Germany at the very edge of the city. It takes us a good 40 minutes to get there. For New Yorkers, this is nothing, so forgive me for the complaint. But this is Vienna, and there is literally a pool up the street. If only it weren’t closed forever under construction until 2014.

After we did our laps and were feeling smug for having gotten off our fat asses stretching on the side, I noticed something sweet as can be: A group of 10 or so middle-aged women were learning to jump off the diving board.

Now, if I’m being generous, this diving board was about half a foot two feet off the ground. We’re not talking about Greg Louganis here. The gaggle of ladies lined up like they were in nursery school, and one after the other, sort of…fell into the pool. They even had a special preparatory stance: Arms out to the side, legs scissored open. Most of them stood on the board, looked out at their shivering cohorts in horror — how I can I possibly do this? — opened their limbs, took a big breath in, sealed their mouths shut, and slid into the pool. Or crashed into it. One woman, who was wearing pants, a dress and a bathing cap, got onto the board, stood there for some time mulling it over, dismounted, watched a friend jump in, and then tried again. On the second go, she made it into the water.

They were so pleased with themselves! So proud, as they got in and out of the water, in and out, in and out.

It got me thinking about being bold — about taking physical risks. Of course I don’t know the first thing about these women, but I cannot imagine that there was some vital reason that they learn to jump off a diving board at age 40. But they were doing it anyway.

Because of my back injury, I’ve taken very few physical risks in the last few years. At first this was earth-shattering frustrating. I loved trying the hardest yoga poses, the weirdest, most exhilarating partnering, leaping higher, faster, more boldly. The bruises on my elbows and scratched knees were proof. And then I just…couldn’t.

Back in the days when I loved living in mid-air.

In the last few weeks, I’ve rolled out my yoga mat for the first time in over 5 years. And I’ve practiced the most rudimentary poses you can imagine taken some real risks. The practice lasts about 12 minutes looks nothing like it used to when I could last more than 12 minutes balance on my hands, but I am spreading my limbs, and taking a big breath in (and out). There is no reason for this. Just the willingness to jump in again.


How to Survive Your First Month in Vienna

Moving to a new place is hell hard, so I’ve started a list of the things I am tolerating about love about Vienna. Thus far it is short, but here’s hoping the list expands or I might go insane.

The tram. Especially the ones that make you feel like you’re in pre-war Austria (not that that would be especially good for me and Mr. Goldstein).

This tram floor is dangerous beautiful. I tripped up the stairs and fell flat on my face. Many Austrians stared in disbelief barely noticed.

Naked Austrians! Changing tables at the pool. You’ve gotta love a country that makes parenting easier.

The view from our couch. Daunting Heaven.

Breakfast of champions My darling husband. I’d like to say that these were both his, but unfortunately, one of them was mine. I took this around 9am. God help me.


Welcome to Wien, Or Why Didn’t You Know This Already?

I never feel quite at home anywhere unless I’m in Brooklyn until I have found the local swimming pool. David and I have been in Vienna for an eternity three weeks now, so we thought it was time to figure out how we could avoid becoming obese from the schnitzel and schlag where we could do some laps. Vienna, like Munich, supposedly has a million public pools (check out this incomprehensible website), which are never open open all the time. Our first two searches came up short: the pool right up the block (yippee!) is a demolition zone closed until December 2012. The one a little ways down the road turned out to be for naked sauna-ing not for swimming. Then we ended up here:

We were so far west, I swear we were almost in Paris out of the city limit. (As a side note, our tram driver got into an accident on our way there, so we got to witness him picking up the woman whose car he totaled how Austrians deal with car insurance forms.) The pool, it turned out, was actually more like an amusement park: It had one of those curly Q slides you find at Six Flags (David went down it, followed by a six year old); an outdoor wading pool; a pool for lane swimming; a naked sauna area (you had to pay more for this, and no, we haven’t been yet, and I will will not keep you posted); and, of course, a bar and a hot dog stand. The Viennese are experts at the combo-platter approach to things. Take, for instance, this:

A cafe/CD/record shop/business of some kind. We sat there for three hours, and not a single other person walked in. The espresso maker — which was literally one you might buy for yourself at Macy’s — was in a corner, next to a tiny fridge. Despite the lack of foot traffic, there seemed to be at least 45 a dozen people on staff. Or take this:

A bar and restaurant/hair salon. So if you hate your haircut, just get drunk. Or get drunk and cut your hair. Anyway, I digress: the pool. Unsatisfied with our experience in Paris out west, we went in search of another one. Instead we ended up in hell here:

See that blue ball flying around? There were about four doing the rounds, each part of its own game of water polo. Then add teenage boys canon-balling off a diving board, other kids careening themselves into the pool off every possible ledge, parents throwing their kids around, old women doing water ballet along the sides, and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting in from the folks tanning out on the lawn. This made swimming in Munich — which I once found frustrating — feel like making my way across this:

This is where David and I swam this summer, days before our wedding in the Catskills.

My surprise at the chaos I encountered in the Munich pools had to do with the fact that it seemed so un-German. Everywhere we went — post office, passport agency — there was a clear system — except in the water. In Vienna, this is not the case. Everything is a mess extremely fluid — rules and systems are vague, hidden and generally unclear. You are expected to be telepathic know things. The how is less important. Even when you get someone on the phone — whether it be about how to obtain a visa or a health insurance card — the person on the other end will talk at warp speed act like she’s telling you how to spell your own name. (Have I mentioned that I was more than two weeks into my job when I found out that I had an office and that a health insurance card had been ordered for me?) I recently learned from a friend that if you want something done — for instance, some gadget fixed at the local Radio Shack — you basically have to order the person behind the counter to do it, despite his claim that it can’t be done. His refusal, it turns out, has nothing to do with your gadget and everything to do with his mood.

I have a lot to learn. In related news, I bought my first new yoga mat in eight years. I will be unrolling it in our apartment. Without a pool to call home yet, I’ll try finding my way not in the company of Austrians on land.


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On German Pools, Linguists, & the Meaning of Language

I am very happy to share the news that I have a piece up on The Millions today! It’s my first pseudo-love letter to Munich, and also to David (or, the first one I am sharing with all of you). Here we are (not) drying our hair and looking uncharacteristically serious after a lunchtime trip to the Nordbad, our favorite German pool, which you’ll read all about in the essay by clicking HERE.

On a side note, the book that’s leaning against the mirror — French: A Linguistic Introduction — was, no joke, David’s tram reading. This will make more sense after you read the essay and find out a tad more about him. My tram reading usually looks more like this.

Let me know what you think! xo

Oh, and PS: I’ve finally joined Twitter, so help me God, so you can follow me here!