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First Week in Austria

By Billy | March 30, 2011

So.  Has the Austrian Apple lost its schein?  No.  Not hardly.


What did I do today?  Well  I woke up at 7 AM, probably a few minutes after most of my loved ones at home went to sleep for the night.  I have been waking up every day minutes before my alarm.  I have this system: I wake up before the alarm, turn the alarm off, lay in bed mostly asleep for half an hour, lay in bed mostly awake for fifteen minutes, and then I quickly get out of bed at 7:45 every day.  It’s great.

By this time, my family here has gotten up, eaten their breakfast, and gone on to start their days.  That’s fine with me since I’m used to solitary meals, which I’d indulge in consistently at school.  Bread and butter for breakfast?  Sure!  I’ve never considered that a breakfast, but it seems to suffice just fine when I’m either not in the mood for, or in wont of cereal or oat meal.

Breakfast done, I write an e-mail or two to some friends, start an argument or two on Facebook, resist getting sucked back into USA politics, and look up the name of the cute little flowers I see popping up all over Weitra.  (Still no luck)

What now?  Well, I suppose I’ll hop on my Peugeut (which I guess I should specify is a bicycle — very similar to my French bike back home — since there’s lots of Peugeut cars here.  Who knew?)  and get lost looking for my host-mom’s factory.  Alex’s factory is something I don’t quite understand.  Is everything made in the factory for her to sell?  Is any of it?  I would be as surprised if all or none of the stuff made at this factory went somehow to her business.  Nevertheless, part of this “factory,” seems to be dedicated to Walter Schnabl’s artistic purposes.  This guy is awesome.  Someone described him as a possible forerunner in the artistic world, and I don’t know much about art or anything, but I know what strikes me.  Walter’s art is breathtaking, bewhildering, and engaging.  I couldn’t stop looking at it, and smiling, or even giggling while looking at it.  I don’t think the impact of “forerunner in the field,” is exaggurated by the translation to English from German, nor do I think it is terribly pretentious to allude to Walter this way.  I only experienced three of Walter’s current works-in-progress in a brief time, and only one of them was nearly recognizable, nowhere near what he describes as the final layout in an exhibit, and it was still utterly remarkable.

Today from 9-something to 12something? I became a guilder, an artist, and a heiß-kakao enjoyer, all at the same time.  Guilding is remarkable.  Something that is guilded is not made of gold, but has the appearance of being so.  Think of Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus (or do an image-search online for it).  Think that baby’s made of gold or covered in it?  It is guided — just an unbelievably thin layer of gold placed on top of some other surface.  That’s guilding.  Walter says his method of guilding is not much different from the way the ancient Egyptians did it.    What it involves is taking a super-thin sheet of gold, about the size of a post-it-note, and lay it down on top of whatever surface you want to guild.  Walter was using resin so when we laid down the sheet, it stuck right there.  Then you push it down gently with what looked like a little horse-hair blush application brush, and move on to the next square.  OK.  How thin was this golden sheet?  Well, no matter how much I got on me, from static cling or something, I could ball it up between my fingers and it would eventually disappear!  That’s how small it was.  I literally spent some time whilst guilding contemplating the number of atoms thick the sheets of gold were.  (…OK, I just looked it up.  300 atoms thick.  THREE HUNDRED FREAKING ATOMS THICK.)

Whoa.  If I had known that while I was guilding, I would have needed to sit down.


So, guilding is an interesting art.  It also makes for beautiful things, and can be very meditative.  The end result can not be rightly captured in picture, but here is what one of Walter’s guilded shields looks like on his website:

A Guilded Shield



Click on that and get a good close up.  It is actually flat and still, but it appears to be fluid, moving, and constantly moving.  My first thought was to call it a magic eye trick.  Ah!  Pictures don’t do it justice!


So afterwards, Alex and I went shopping (I bought Kimchi fixin’s!  Aren’t you glad I’m making Kimchi in Austria and not in your house?), pushed her Peugeut to the limits regarding how far it can go without petrol, and eventually got everyone home for lunch.

Then.  We went back to the factory and got a crazy amount of firewood.  We chucked it into the wine/wood storage cellar.  Wow.  Two sentences for all that?  It took like 3 hours!  Oh man, I’ve never stacked fire wood before, and I’ve never been in a truck filled with it before.  I think saving firewood is probably one of the first endeavors humans started doing.  It may also be a uniquely human thing to do?  I don’t quite feel like checking up on that guess.   In any case, I felt just like I had been participating in an age old tradition of saving up so we can survive a harsh winter like what you get in Northern Austria.  It was fun to move my body so much and feel the vibrancy of the tree in my hands, although it was already rapidly fading, and will continue to do so over the next year.  The kids were very helpful in this endeavor, and we made it a game to chuck blocks of wood into the cellar through a window at street level.  Maybe my next post will be picture based and elucidate the situation a bit.  We finished the wood chucking at about 8 oclock, so it was pretty much time for a bier, some food, and to relax.  The bier (beer) we drink here is brewed oh, 50 feet from the house.  It’s rather tasty, too.  Every kitchen I’ve been in in Austria has had a bottle opener permanently affixed to the counter.

Hum.  Well, there’s a lot of words.  Today at the dinner table I learned that the rest of the world (well, at least as far as this part of Austria is concerned) think George W. was as dumb as people in the USA think.  That’s about as deep as I’m willing to get into politics for now.

Mmmm. Mmm.  OK.  Well.  That’s all for now!

(Also!  Here’s Walter’s website!

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