Vienna

Recently I had a chance to visit Vienna, Austria. You know Austria. It’s where Julie Andrews sang to the hills in the 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music.”

The sound of music really does describe a lot of Vienna’s history. Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss II, among others, were associated with the city. You can visit a room where Mozart, a precocious youngster and musical genius, dazzled his audience with his virtuosity. There are concert halls that have heard the premieres of some of the finest music known to man.

There is a lovely opera house, the Wiener Staatsoper, first built in 1869 (and rebuilt after WWII).  It was popular during the Third Reich with frequent performances of Wagner’s operas. Ironically the last performance before Allied planes started to rain bombs on the city was Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The title “refers to a prophesied war among various beings and gods that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world.”  The bombing of Vienna must indeed have seemed like götterdämmerung.  In February and March 1945 alone there were 80,000 tons of bombs dropped on the city.

I’m a bit of a history buff, especially about WWII, and I can’t visit Europe without reflecting on the horror of that war. It’s especially easy in Vienna because the streets seem so familiar from documentaries and movies. The mind’s eye can easily visualize Nazi troops marching down the broad strasses (streets) and brave partisans lurking in bombed out buildings.  When I find myself in these places that have seen such awful destruction I often will think of a line from the Joni Mitchell song The Three Great Stimulants, “No tanks have ever rumbled through my street/And the drone of planes at night has never frightened me.” I have lived such a blessed life and certainly the #1 blessing is to have not experienced war first-hand. It is a wretched business and I am infuriated when someone of Donald Trump’s ilk throws out threats to Iran or North Korea or Venezuela. War is almost always a result of male egos.

But I digress. Back to beautiful Vienna, thankfully well recovered from world wars. It is vibrant and lovely.  I was in the city for a medical cannabis conference and I had one day for sightseeing. I spent most of that day on a “hop on/hop off” bus which I rode around the loop twice. I was just seven weeks removed from having a hip replaced and my stamina was not what it could be. I was grateful to have made the trip at all so seeing Vienna from a bus that was filled (off and on, of course) with happy people speaking languages from around the globe did not seem that bad to me. Along the way I saw lovely boulevards, historic architecture and hot rods…yes, hot rods, miniature hot rods. Out of place?  Definitely.  I laughed out loud.

 

I knew I had one good foray in me in terms of walking and enjoying a particular site. It was a difficult choice. Friends who have visited the city before urged me to visit the opera house, or the Schönbrunn Palace, or one of the multitude of art museums, or the Lippizzaner stallions. But once I saw the Naturhistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum, and learned that it has the largest display of meteorites in the world I knew where I wanted to be.

The building is imposing, with 94,000 square. It opened in 1889 and was built to hold the collections of the Royal Habsburg family. Like so many institutions of that time the design exalts art and beauty. Entering the main hallway is like walking into enlightenment.

Obviously I did not manage to visit all 94,000 sq.ft. The meteorites were up the stairs and through the mineral rooms which had an extraordinary array of rocks, ores, and gems.

 

Just getting through the minerals was hard work but the gem room led to the Meteorite room and I must admit the museum has an extraordinary collection of cosmic debris.

The Knyahinya meteor, I have learned, is not exactly the largest meteor known to man but it was in 1866 when it fell to earth in the Carpathian Mountains in quite a spectacular fashion. The meteor weighs more than 600 lbs. and is quite lovely.

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Knyahinya Meteor

The Meteor Room, fittingly, led to the dinosaurs and, once again, the Vienna Natural History Museum did not disappoint.

This room was populated mainly with excited children who dashed from one model and display case to another. They were too hyper to sit which left the benches more or less open. Those who did sit were tired parents and contented grandparents. Perhaps some of them, like me, were reflecting on life’s fragility. One minute you are in Eden, the largest beings on earth, munching leaves and grass contentedly when a bright light above you seems to portend a change.  Another götterdämmerung…. ❧

On the Road – Day 4

Grace2One of my favorite TV series is “Saving Grace.” (It originally aired on TNT 2007-2010 and is now available on Netflix.)  Holly Hunter plays an Oklahoma City detective named Grace who is visited by Earl, a lovable angel.  Grace is a nice twist on the prostitute with a heart of gold.  She sleeps around, drinks too much, and is a wicked jokester but she’s also ethical and a good cop.

A major story line is the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. Grace’s sister died in the blast but it should have been Grace, who was too hung-over to go down to the Social Security Office and apply for her nephew’s card. Now Grace is helping to raise the nephew and they have frequent talks about the bombing.  And they visit the memorial park that was constructed on the site of the bombing.

And that is what led me to Oklahoma City today.

The bombing happened on April 19, 1995. It was horrific, killing 168 people and ripping apart an enormous building in the heart of OKC. But, practically speaking, I missed all of it.  April 1995 was not a good time for me. My husband was six months into his diagnosis of AIDS.  In early April he nearly died when his gallbladder became inflamed and then went necrotic. Surgery saved him but rendered him, as he said, “weak as a kitten.”  We had already decided to move back to Florida, to be near family for support, and wheels were in motion that were threatening to run me down. Movers had been contracted, boxes were getting packed and deadlines loomed. I recall buying something at a store and asking the clerk about the ribbon she was wearing. She looked at me as if I was an alien. “It’s for the bombing victims,” she declared with just a hint of “you idiot.”

Twelve years later “Saving Grace” came on the air and its interwoven theme reminded me of those times.  Odd as it may seem, I felt badly that I hadn’t felt badly in 1995. So today I stopped by to pay my respects.

Earl must have been on my shoulder because I managed to get a parking space directly across the street. It was a raw, cold day so it was little wonder that there were no crowds. And the memorial, like the building that once stood there, is literally in the middle of the city. It is amazing that more buildings didn’t collapse.

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Side view of the Oklahoma City bombing museum

I should have visited the museum but I didn’t. It is housed in an original part of the Murrah Building that survived the blast, the scars of that terrible day are very evident.  I’m sure it is excellent but I worried about leaving Tango in the van for too long and, truth to tell, I am not the best museum browser.

So I made the quick walk to the memorial sculpture/garden and as I gazed at it across a beautiful reflection pool I was surprised at the tears that gathered in my eyes. The design is so personal and so simple–168 chairs in nine rows reflecting the nine floors of the Murrah Building.   The placement of the chair corresponds with the floor on which the person would have been at the time of the blast. The smaller chairs represent the children that died. Five chairs set away from the others represent those that were outside the building.  Each chair has a glass foundation with a name engraved.  It reminded me of  “Our Town,” the Thornton Wilder play in which the dead occupy chairs and reflect on life and eternity.  Certainly in that quiet park, that was once so horribly torn asunder, it is easy to do the same.

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The Oklahoma City National Memorial

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Perhaps Wilder captured the essence of why I visited the Memorial when the main character speaks these lines:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

New Zealand Memories

Too long between posts here.  My bad.  I love posting on Alice’s Wanderland and have been annoyed with myself for not getting here more often.  But that’s a waste of time. Best to move on and get my life re-adjusted so that I have time again for this labor of love.

For a while I tried to post some new image or video every time.  But the fact is, I have a lot of old photos and videos that also deserve posting.  And I have come to realize that blogs give us a chance, paraphrasing Paul Simon, to preserve our memories because, increasingly, they are all that is left.  Like most people these days I have so many pictures and tapes.  I can’t post them all but this discipline of a blog forces me to choose the best.  I can share AND have a spot where I know my memories are safe from cluttered hard drives and paper stacks.

Today’s post is one of my all time favorites.  It is a short video (5 minutes) that I put together following my trip to New Zealand in 2006.  The pictures are all mine.  The music is from an electronic group called AeTopus.  On their website it is said, “With subtle, pastoral elegance, AeTopus reveals a world that is simultaneously foreign and familiar – an aural mosaic rich in spiritual contemplation, seasonal variance, and ancient ritual.”  That is a perfect description of their song “Psychic Slumber.”  It is also a perfect description of New Zealand.

October in New Zealand is equivalent to April in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is spring.  So we saw flowers and snow, waterfalls galore and lots of baby lambs.  And we saw penguins, in the wild, following a rather harrowing hike through trees and streams…in the pouring rain.  It was cold.  I have rarely been so ecstatic.  When you see the final image of the video you might understand what I mean.❧

 

 

Image #313-Red-legged Pademelon

Red legged pademelon

Tell someone you’ve been to Australia and you can expect to hear, “Wow! Did you see any kangaroos?”  The answer is, “Yes!”  But the ‘roos I saw were not what we think of here in the USA.  On my first trip, in 2001, I did see one of those big ‘roos, hopping down the fairway on a golf course!

On this trip the sightings were less dramatic.  We saw several Red-legged pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica) which Wikipedia describes a “a marsupial rainforest kangaroo.”  They are quite shy and hang in the shadows which makes photographs difficult.  This little guy  is probably an adult which means she/he is about 2 1/2 feet tall when upright.  Because their habitat is rainforest the range of the species has shrunk and Wikipedia says it is a vulnerable species.  Australia has many preserves where these charming creatures can live but we humans, frankly, are crowding out everything.  It would be too bad to lose a creature with such a lyrical name. ❧

Australia!

Flat White

Hello gentle readers.  It has been several weeks since I have posted to this blog but Alice’s Wanderland is truly living up to its name this week.

Greetings from Australia!  I am mid-way through a three week holiday with a bit of business at the very end.  It has been a wonderful time.

Australia is fun.  It is at once very familiar and, at the same time, very different.  Coffee is a good example, as you can see in the above picture.  It is a simple cup of coffee with cream (milk) but Down Under they call it a Flat White and the very best of them have wonderful designs created from the milk.  This particular cup was enjoyed at a cafe called Emelia’s in Gympie, which had wonderful food, coffee and pastries.

I forget how much “foreign” travel can do for the soul.  It pushes to the rear all the day-to-day stuff that consumes our lives and forces a re-awakening, a re-visiting of attitudes and customs, a great kick on the door marked “Learn” to throw it open as wide as possible.  Everyone travels these days. Age doesn’t matter…from 8 days to 80 years and everything in between.  All colors, languages, dress…and all with a slightly wary eye on our fellow travelers because it is, dear friends, a dangerous time too.  But at the end of 8,000 miles you can emerge in a land where people make hearts on your coffee.  And I am certain in every land there are these gestures of acceptance and welcoming.  Humans, most assuredly too numerous for their own good, nevertheless have great hearts and show them in a hundred different ways.  Keep looking. ❧

#278 – South Dakota Badlands – Geologically Speaking

The Badlands

The term “badlands” is so visually descriptive one hardly needs to say much more but if you need an accurate definition our friends at Wikipedia offer this one, “They are characterized by steep slopes, minimal vegetation, lack of a substantial regolith, and high drainage density.[2]”   That concise statement characterizes what you see in the picture.  We were fortunate enough to visit the Badlands in early June. The searing sun and hot temperatures of summer had not yet eliminated the green vegetation and wild flowers of spring which seemed all the more beautiful when set against the backdrop of those rugged slopes. ❧

Image #277 – Badlands Landscape #1

Badlands Landscape

 

 

My interest in the Badlands began in the early 1980s. I saw (and acquired) a print by the artist Greg Mortensen. It was a scene from the Badlands and I think this picture may be close to the spot where he conceived the idea. Mortense is a reduction woodcut artist.  Here is an explanation from the Davidson Galleries website:

The reduction woodcut process uses the same block of wood over and over, unlike the traditional woodcut method that employs separate blocks for each color. The artist cuts and prints the woodblock in stages, printing a different color on the same sheet of paper after each cutting. As successive areas of the block are cut away (reduced, hence reduction woodcut), inked and printed, the image builds in subtlety and complexity. Dijkstra and Mortensen both make effective use of the process to express their respective landscapes.

The print I acquired was the first of three Mortensens I would eventually own and it is my favorite.  It means even more to me now that I have seen the source of his inspiration.  ❧