Monday, November 2, 2009

Vienna Waits For You

"Was kostet das?"

That was the most important phrase I learned while living in Vienna. It meant "What does this cost?"... and I used it frequently for food. Restaurants typically asked for the money before you ate. I couldn't figure out how to say "how much does the chewy stuff with fat and breading cost?" ... so I'd just point and use the same dumb phrase.

I also used that phrase alot at the flea market that my new friend and teaching colleague, Karl, introduced me to. We used to go once a week. Karl bought old home movies. He didn't care who was in them or what they were about. He was a Kindergarten teacher and used them in class as story starters for the kids.

His classroom was filled with flea market stuff ... old books in different languages (not the classics ... unless Plumbing for Dummies in German counts), clocks, camera equipment, old records, a VW van bench ... all priceless when you asked him, "Was kostet das?"

In the afternoon, Karl took a nap in his own cot next to the other students. I think he brought his own teddy bear too.

My students were too old to take naps ... that is if you don't count when they nodded off in the middle of a reading assignment.  But most of the time they were attentive. Many were kids of diplomats stationed in Vienna ... like US Ambassador John Humes son, Colin. His family invited the faculty to a party in the embassy one evening. I remember it well because I sat in the chair marked for Kruschev. I had this incredible urge to tell everyone "I will bury you!" .... but I held myself back.

I'll never forget teaching two Russian Jewish brothers. They were temporarily living in Vienna until their family could be relocated to Israel. Painfully shy, they had just started taking English lessons. I learned that I had to speak very softly to them when I gave instruction, as they cringed at any loud noise. Apparently, they had been the victims of beatings and anti-semitic abuse in  their hometown.

One day, there was a loud crash outside of our classroom ... a car accident. The two brothers dove under their desks and refused to come out. I sat on the floor next to them for a long time until they finally felt safe.

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