Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shubh Diwali, parce!

Slowly, but surely, a small measure of social life and fun is making its way back into my otherwise fairly crowded-with-assignments student life. One of my goals for my second year at the University of the West Indies is to live more. As in, to spend more time with friends (old and new) than working or doing whatever else school related stuff on the office or the lab or the library by myself from Monday to Sunday. That means, there's a need for better planning and more structure, because I don't want my studies to suffer on account of me liming with people all the time; that's not how this works. No, the idea is to "simply" use the time I have at my disposal more efficiently, so that I can do both: work hard and play hard. I'm going let you know how that works out because - tadaah - I have no clue how to accomplish this. 

I had a good start today, though. It's Diwali and my Colombian friend who's staying at my house invited me to go to a little dinner thing with him. That turned out to be the most interesting Diwali I've ever had! 

We shall ignore the fact that it's only my second one. Shut up. 

Back to Diwali. We traveled up into Maracas St Joseph, just past the University of the Southern Caribbean, to Mr Persad's house. There, we were greeted by a sparkling display of lit deeyas and blinking lights, a whole bunch of people from all over the place, drinks and food that would have been enough to feed an army - and then send them home with bags of food to eat over the course of the weekend. 

Two things were especially great for me:

Everyone was super nice and I got to chat with plenty new people, from Trinidad as well as from different parts of Venezuela and Colombia. Spanish was spoken more than English. And there was even a Spanish professor from Barranquilla who amazed me by suddenly speaking to me in German. Our was insane - in the best way possible. 

The second thing was Mr Persad's love for all things latino and the colorful cultural collage that was its result. Speaking three different languages with some people I knew from before and a whole lot of people that were completely new to me, a mehendi drying on my right hand and a piece of kurma in my left, with Jorge Celedon singing over the crackling of the fireworks in the background. Yes. Freaking vallenato! It felt like being in Trinidad and Colombia at the same time, a meeting of two worlds in this already unusual space - so good!

Thanks to Alejandro for taking me along, thanks to Mr Persad for the invitation, thanks to his wife for the sweets that are now taking up all the space in my fridge (somebody come eat that, please).

Only one thing left to say:

Happy Diwali, my friend.
Shubh Diwali, parce!

Friday, October 10, 2014


The small nuisances of the Trinidadian rainy reason: when your shoes get soaked on the way to the office and you have to spend the rest of the day in wet socks. 

The small pleasures of the Trinidadian rainy season: when your shoes look sooo pretty in varying shades of grey!



Thursday, October 9, 2014

This one's an acquired taste.

Well, Facebook, aren't you the question and picture placement expert? Can you guess what my relationship status is? And can you guess why? 
Punspunspuns, ROFL!


PS: I learned how to take screenshots on my new phone!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Trolling fashionistas!

Trinidad is a place where the great majority of people are very fashion-conscious and even if they don't follow the latest international trends, hot off the runways and catwalks of the world, they'll at least do their best to look good in what they're wearing. Clothes fit properly, outfits go well together, hair is kempt, shoes are stylish, etc. Of course, that's a broad statement and quite a generalisation, but it's the sense I've gotten over the past two-ish years I've lived here. 

I've adapted myself, even, I'll be honest. I will never forget the time a friend told me the number one thing that made me stand out as a foreigner was that I was always dressed oh so comfortably. So, over time, my jeans have gotten a little bit tighter, my shoes a little bit "cuter" and my shirts and tops a little more figure-hugging, less flowy. Not by much, but they have. 

Can you imagine the fun I'm having now that none of my stuff fits right anymore and on top of that, because we've known that for a while, it's now too warm to wear the kind of shirt that my suspenders could go under? That's a bad thing, I know, that I'm constantly losing my pants, but that's not the point I'm making. Involuntarily, my style has now turned into something even less "appropriate" than back in those first months. 

I turn heads when I walk around campus in my 1990s dork clothes. Some people look like they're genuinely offended by my appearance, because it's the complete opposite of what any girly magazine would recommend. 

I'm not going to tell you I don't notice those looks. 
And I'm not going to tell you they don't affect me. 
Because they do. 


I revel in them! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Before I do tell you about the last week in Vienna or we explore some more, I need to tell you about today. Because today was an emotional success. I don't know if it really came through in yesterday's blog, but this first week back hasn't been the most awesome. You know, the stuff I need to take care of before I can settle into my work and study and live rhythm. Well. 

I got a break today, from all that, thanks to my friend Mark. He took me along to Macqueripe, where he was invited to an art showing by Che Lovelace, at his house and studio. I was slightly unsure whether I wanted to go or not, for a number of reasons. On one hand, I love art and I hate how little access to it I have here and I knew there would be lots of new people there. On the other side, I had a bad night and was still tired and a little sick from that and Macqueripe is so far away even from town and then I'm far from town on the opposite side and I knew there would be lots of new people there. Tough-ish. 

My love for art won. 

And, man, am I glad it did! 

I took a maxi into POS and Mark picked me up by City Gate and from there we drove out to Chaguaramas, taking a right towards Macqueripe just after the boardwalk and Pier One. Macqueripe is mostly known for the beach and the ziplining, but Mark taught me something new today. The residences in Macqueripe (and I didn't even know there were residential houses there...) were built for American officers and their families while the US had military bases on the island. Apparently, they still belong to the army, but can now be rented by anyone. They used to be the latest trend and pretty luxurious back then and while now they're not all that anymore, they're still really nice. 

And from the picture you can see how open the space is, so there's a nice breeze there that allows you to turn the fan off. I really enjoyed that today! 

What I also enjoyed very much were the people present. Mainly from the point of view of the researcher inside me. When you move around the arts scene, there's automatically a lot of people from outside. As in, from outside Trinidad. As in, the people whose lives I'm researching! I don't yet know why, but I hope to find out in the course of my project. So seeing those people and making new contacts was difficult but wonderful at the same time. Really, in that sense it was a rather productive day, because that experience can even go into my fieldwork diary! 

What did I like best, you ask? 

(Really, you have to ask?) 

Anyway, my favourite part of the day was the art. All of it. The paintings on the walls in all the rooms. The paintings just leaning against the wall and the paintings under the bed. The paint and the brushes and all the utensils. The books. The music. The air in the place, the whole atmosphere. Like, whoa... 

It felt really good to take it all in and Che Lovelace is a really approachable person, or at least that's how it seemed today. I've only meet him this one time so far, but it was definitely a good first impression. Everybody was asking questions and not only did he answer them patiently, he answered them expensively, showing his knowledge as well as his passion. That was interesting for me as a student, because his views on culture are very interesting and I hope to at some point be able to pin him down for an interview for my thesis. And it was interesting for me as a person who likes art and paints herself from time to time, because his style is very intriguing to me. The colours as well as the materials incorporated are just so similar to what I wish I could work with. 

Thing is, I haven't gone to art school and I don't have all the knowledge and experience and I'm one hundred percent sure I'm also not patient enough. I wish, though, how I wish...

Go check this guy out to get a nice look at Trinidadian art. And if you're as lucky as me, you'll get stories of influences and thoughts behind paintings and about the process and how it feels and even tips on where to go for inspiration. 

Now, the reason I say today was helpful is that now I feel more secure in my being in Trinidad. The homecoming obviously didn't go or feel the way it could or should have and I've spent this first week missing more than just my family and friends, pondering the quality of the life decisions I've recently made. (Whoa, this got really heavy really quickly!) Anyway, the point is that today I enjoyed landscape and cityscape. I got to present myself to people as a PhD student and explain my work to them - and they were more than just a little bit interested; some seemed like they're actually looking forward to contributing through an interview at some point. I got to breathe art again, one of the things I miss the most when I'm not in Vienna. Therefore, for all of that, I just feel a lot more secure in being here, in Trinidad and at university. A lot of assertion today, which was quite necessary. I'm doubting and second guessing myself a lot less since this afternoon. I believe the first step out of the hole has been taken. (Overly heavy stuff over.)

Thanks, Che, for the glimpse into this fantastic world, which I hope to see more of. 

Thanks, Mark, for bringing me along today. 

Thanks, you, for reading. 

Arriving, or something like that.

What's with the sudden silence on here?!

Coming home is a piece of work, let me tell you that. Be it because taking three different flights is just really tiring. Or because you went from the airport straight to campus, like a good little student/prisoner/zombie. Or because when you did come home the toilet was broken and the very first thing you had to do was find a plumber. Or, maybe, because D) all of the above. And more! But I shall tell you all that later. 

As always, the first glimpse: Toco.

First, some good news: my luggage was not overweight and I didn't have to pay extra for it. Also, it arrived with me and none of it got lost along the way. Kudos to all the airlines involved, and that was a whole bunch. And even more good news: the immigration people in Tobago gave me the full year!!! They took my passport into a side office and made me wait at the back of the arrivals hall, so my guess is that they just straight up called UWI and got the confirmation they needed. They didn't have to do that, though, they could just as well have given me 1-3 months and sent me on the stamp-getting odissey myself. Thank you, lady at that desk, for not doing that. You rock. 

When I reached Trinidad, a whole welcome committee was waiting for me. Not immediately, but they sort of came trickling in one by one. Originally, Dean was going to pick me up, he had my keys, after all. But he had class that evening and was going to "run away early" so I wouldn't have to wait too long. Obviously, that's not something I could stand for so I said no worries, do your thing and I'll meet you at UWI. So Hamish came to pick me up. And Hamish is a colleague and friend of mine who is seen on campus and even online extremely rarely, it's like saying a sparkling bigfoot-unicorn came to pick me up. People will, at random intervals, insist they've seen it. Then others doubt them until they doubt themselves. And somewhere in the woods that unicorn is laughing its ass off. Anyway, Dean apparently either didn't take me seriously or didn't want to risk my getting kidnapped somewhere in the dark and dangerous streets of St Augustine (yeah, I know, ridiculous but cute) so when I called him to ask where on campus to meet him he said he was actually on his way to the airport. But so was Hamish. That's the kind of dilemma you feel great to be in; honestly, that stressed me because I felt bad for them and for being the cause of trouble, but at the same time it also made me feel really good on the inside. We solved that by Dean turning around and going back to his own stuff and me coming by with Hamish to pick up my keys. In case the fifteen times I have already thanked each of you in person don't suffice, here's a public one: thank you SO MUCH for helping me come home, you are both awesome. I mean it. 

While I was waiting, a colleague from the - totally voluntary on my side - tourist shenanigans suddenly showed up, to pick up a couple of Germans who had been on the flight just after mine. It was fun to see his surprised expression when I was standing in front of the terminal - even better because he, by sheer coincidence, pulled up right in front of me. And then the boss showed up as well, for yet another group of tourists, if I understood that correctly. But it's great when you get to say hi to people you know as soon as you arrive, it makes the arrival feel more legitimate. Like you're really part of the place. Not just a visitor. 

There's another reason I'm telling you this, though. Look: 

This car was parked with the trunk open right in front of my very heavy luggage. The keys were in the ignition. The owner had gone inside to find the Germans and left his phone with me so I could call Hamish and Dean. How do you know I'm a good person? Despite ridiculously and invitingly ample opportunity, I did not just take the phone and take the car and go! (I'm patting myself on the shoulder right now.)

It was smooth sailing for the rest of the way too. Hamish came and we went to campus, but only to meet Dean where he was having his karate practice and get my keys - not to go into the office! We found Dean, so I got my keys and a hug, which was great. Then we went to the house, which was still standing. I'd been incredibly nervous about that. 

It hasn't been a full week yet, but I already feel like Austria was a weird dream and didn't really happen. I guess that's how it goes when you flip the UWI-switch to the ON position. 

During this time, I've been unpacking and doing laundry and putting away all the stuff I brought. I searched for, found and called a plumber, who came and fixed the toilet. I've been giving my little presents to people, but it's not making me happy, because if I could have my way then everyone would get way more and different things. I've been going around campus letting people know that I don't know where the rumour originated, but it's definitely not true; I am back and I am here to stay and I am doing a course and they need to find me work in the department and please put my name back on all the lists and directories. I've been looking for the person who started the rumour that I'd left for good so I can (verbally and emotionally) punch them in the fricking face (because I'm not a violent person). I've been working. I've been working. I've been working. I've been missing my Austrian lovelies while walking home from campus in the rain. 

I have a few more things to sort out before I can find my work and study rhythm, but once I do it'll all be good again. 

As soon as that rhythm is set and things are flowing naturally again and the rumour-devil has been figuratively given a few cracks in his or her facial bones, I'll tell you my leftover stories from Vienna and surely also some new stories from here. In the meantime, shorts for the DiscoverVienna series and the assurance that all is well. 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Undercity

Disclaimer: This is not an excerpt from a Neil Gaiman novel! 

The canals under Vienna are more special than you'd think and much, much more special than most people know. Not only, because a good and functioning sewage system is vital for any city and its population's well-being. 

First, for us history geeks: In 1739, Vienna was the very first European city to have an area-wide, extensive sewage system beneath its streets and edifices. 

Second, for us movie buffs: The awesome movie The Third Man, set in a hardly recognizable Vienna destroyed by the Second World War, features the Vienna sewers as part of its star cast, with Holly Martins' and Orson Welles' chase set largely in the undercity. Today, you can do a tour of the city based on the movie, which also takes you into the extensive tunnel system under the streets - don't worry, it's not what most of us would expect! 

I myself haven't done that tour yet, but I really want to. So wait until I make it back to Austria again and we can check it out together. 

Idea and historic date: Unnützes WienWissen