Monday, January 31, 2011

A Haus of Rats and Having Class

Blurry, but we're ice skating.
In the past few weeks, I've had a lot of contact with Vienna's Rathaus, or City Hall. It was built in the 1870s in a neo-gothic style, by Friedrich Schmidt, but that's not really the exciting part. What's fun about the Rathaus, at least currently, is the Eistraum (ice dream), a ice skating park in front of the impressive and beautiful building! I've never been a great ice skater (or skier, or rollerskater...) but man, it's great! This park has 3 decent sized ice rinks, along with some trails off the sides so people like me can adventure and avoid the terrifying moment of falling down in the middle of a big ice rink. Ice skating, by the way, is really fun. I can now see the benefit of living in Minnesota, or Austria, for that matter, because it's cold enough to support ice skating rinks! 

On Thursday and Friday of last week, there was a conference for Teachers of English in Austria. First stop: a tour of the city hall! The staff of Vienna was really excited to have us, and we got to view most of the beautiful rooms in the building (except for one, which was in use for real city purposes). While I was scheming for my future wedding, the tour guide informed us that unfortunately citizens cannot rent out the expensive rooms for their own events - because it's a public building, only public events can occur there. Fine. Anyway, it was nice, and the library was reminiscent of Harry Potter, only with less flying books and more loud voices.

The TEA conference (not the Tea Party of America - don't get confused) was interesting. I learned some new ideas for lessons and how to deal with students, and in general am glad that I went, especially because it was free and I didn't have school anyway. I did, however, feel a bit crazy. The other teachers (now students in these classes) were passing notes, talking, and in general behaving every bit like the 17 year olds we teach. I find it funny how easy it is to slip back into the "student" mindset, even though I myself now know (or at least a bit) how difficult it can be to be a teacher, and how great it is when students pay attention. 

As I mentioned before, it's ball season here in Vienna! I managed to attend 3 balls in 7 days, which is pretty balling if I do say so myself. Each ball is different, of course. Last weekend, we went to a school ball in Amstetten to see a friend waltz with his students. This ball had a nice hour long talent show featuring Amstetten's finest performing pieces from Grease, Dirty Dancing, or just double-dutch jump roping. Similarly, a maturaball I went to in Waidhofen had a portion where the oldest classes did dances from all over the world (America was dancing to rap music, and Africa to Shakira). These balls are fun because the whole family is involved, and there are multiple dance floors for multiple purposes! The parents/adults spend most of the time waltzing to songs from Baywatch, while the students spend their time jamming to Austria's top 40 in a smaller, darker hall somewhere. Overall it's a good time.

At the Hofburg
By far the most interesting ball I went to was the Technical University ball at the Hofburg. This was a formal affair, which my date and I kept ruining by being in the wrong place at the right time. For example: we sneaked into the whole ball without having to give anyone our tickets (though we had them), we sneaked into the VIP lounge and got free champagne, without meaning to, and we somewhat interrupted the opening procession by standing in the way. Anyway, it was a great time. I've learned how to waltz, and danced to the Blue Danube Waltz, in the Imperial Palace of Vienna! Austrians really can dance, surprisingly. Every hall of the palace had a different band playing live music, such as jazz, boogie, rumba, salsa, and of course the traditional waltz, and each dance was executed perfectly! Joe and I struggled and made fools of ourselves, but luckily most of the Austrians took pity on us and gave us lots of space. My favorite dance of the whole ball was the Quadrille, which is essentially a pattern of moves that are explained by a woman barking orders into a microphone, and with the music going faster and faster until everyone is messing up and laughing. It was great.

Anyway, in case the students of my classes haven't had enough holidays, we are taking a one week break beginning on Friday. I'm taking this opportunity to get out of Austria and into another culture, namely Portugal and Spain! As charming as I find Austria, and as few hours as I actually work, I've been a bit overwhelmed by my busy schedule in recent weeks, and hope that some time away will help me de-stress. It will be interesting to see how much Spanish I can remember... I think my abilities stop at "where are my pants?", which won't be useful since I wear nothing but dresses. Anyhow, a change in weather and a chance to get into the sunshine will be beneficial, I think.

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