Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hardly a local

After three months of settling in Innsbruck and soaking in life as a local, I still suck at German. It's not that I don't try. I do.
It's not that I haven't taken lessons before. I have.
It's not that I'm not surrounded by German-speakers. I am.

So what is it?

Is it my pronunciation being so horrible no one gets me? It happens.
Is it those five-second pauses I take before pronouncing words like einbauschrankscharnier? It happens.
Is it the laugh I get by Austrians each time I order a verlangerter at a cafe? They always laugh.

I don't know, but I keep trying despite the ongoing realization that I sound like a baby...gah gah.

Anyway -- everyone I'm still in Innsbruck doing what I came here to do -- write a thesis and work at Method Magazine. I'm still bunked at Method camp, though fortunately I've relocated to my editor's room while he's AWOL on a three-month surf trip in France. Life is hard as an editor.

To be a local in Innsbruck you need three things -- a nearby cafe, a nearby bar and a nice view of the Alps. I've managed to integrate all three of these necessities, but it's just like Poison once told us: Every rose has its thorn.

My nearby cafe is Dreiheiligen (Three wise men) Cafe. I first waltzed in there because I thought the whale-sized piece of gold cake teetering over the sign was a sure bet of sweet times. Short lasting, my eyes glazed with icing curdled when I saw the cafe covered like wallpaper with coo coo clocks.

That's right, coo coo clocks. About 50 on each wall, and they worked.

I stood in the doorway thinking, 'My God, I've walked into a time bomb the size of a house because the giant gold cake told me to.'

On closer examination, I noticed each clock was set to a different time. Even now, I don't know what's worse. Fearful yet intrigued I sat down and ordered coffee. My eyes wandered as I slumped into the seat. I waited for the sounds to make my skin crawl like nails on a chalkboard or a knife scratching porcelain plates.

And you know what? It wasn't that bad. Alright, sometimes the clocks with pendulums as big as my head get annoying, but for the most part it's white noise. So I've become a regular and have gotten to know the Dreiheiligen crew. The place is run by a family -- the father bakes, the mother finances, the daughter serves. The daughter rocks, even if she wears a small glitter sticker next to her eye like a fixed body part everyday. The mother is nice, though her dog is more of a menace under my feet than a soft footstool.

The father, however, frightens me. A man his size apparently needs striped pants that end above his ankles, a white apron to cover a beastly belly, and a big baker hat to look even taller than he already is (and it skims the ceiling when he walks, I mean stomps. He stomps). If he wanted to, he could just wait behind the corner each time I enter and jump out at me with his bear-like hands while shouting "HAH!” But no, he likes to prolong the intimidation.

He sits at the same table, the table with an excellent view of the entrance. Hunched over and smoking, he watches each customer walk in and look at the cakes displayed behind the glass counter. And oh man, you better take a long hard look at those cakes because the Frankenstein who made them is right over there. And when the slice is set before you, pause for a moment as he watches you and expects an eye opening, mouth widening expression. And if your body movement takes a break from the "cake-eating" exercise, he’ll notice and wonder why you've stopped. Was his cake not good enough, or are you just not grateful?

All of this makes me nervous. I keep having to remind myself that the big Austrian man that could lift cars for a living, instead, builds fancy cakes. Ok, not so tough anymore.

He must bake after hours because I never see him working. Cake ingredients cover his apron, his hands are stained with vanilla, yet he sits at his eagle’s nest and watches cafe life filter in and out with customers. Naturally he knows them all and talks with them despite how far they (purposely?) sit away from him. Most customers are men working blue-collar jobs. Construction crews, factory workers, old men with thick-lens glasses and canes -- they all love Cake Time. I enjoy my time there because I don't have to speak German to see what's going on. Enjoyable character needs no language.

My bar is an Irish pub called the Galway Pub. Go ahead a furrow your eyebrows at the fact it’s not Austrian, but they pour excellent Guinness and it's a very cozy place. The owner and bar manager are both Irish. I've gotten to know them pretty well after my Kiwi friend Harriet and I stayed there all night once trying to get her a job.

"You want a job here? Then you come tomorrow at 4 o'clock and pour me the best Guinness in the world. Then you'll get a job," he told us.

My reply, "Yeah ok. Hey, why don't you put on some good Irish music?"

"You want to hear good Irish music?!"

"Yeah, play your most favorite Irish band, ever. Impress us all."

He played U2.

Despite the lack of authentic fiddles it's still my Cheers bar, where they know my name, if I know so and so and how work is at the magazine.

And finally, my view of the Alps is wonderful. It’s wonderful... as long as the windows are sealed shut. Innsbruck is a city of 100,000 and sometimes I think all the noise produced here funnels directly through my windows. Cars like to drag race down the narrow street that begins at my windows. Double-long buses turn into space shuttles blasting off outside as they make sharp turns every 20 minutes. The church across the street likes to ring its bells very, very much. And very, very often. Every Saturday at noon there is a doomsday drill that sets off a siren echoing throughout the valley. Trains run nearby, above the streets, bringing the sound of wheels on tracks a bit closer to my second-story window.

Vespas, trucks cleaning roads at 5am, garbage trucks, drunks yelling, off-tune piano playing at 1am -- it's a symphony of city life that makes my ears bleed and my nights long. What really acts as the grand finale is the youth center a few feet next to my flat. Kids come here four nights a week to do whatever juvenile delinquents do in Innsbruck -- get drunk, get routy, flirt, scream, fight, throw things. An encore came just last week when Lane Harlow and Chris Kerrigan came to visit. Some 16-year-old was going off about his driver's license, at six in the morning.






My blood boiled. I had now become completely pissed off.

"It's six and I'm awake, can anyone else in this room hear these fucking kids screaming?"

The entire room answered "YES"

I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the window. The sun was shining, birds sang, the Alps were alive with the sound of music... and that kid was ruining it all by flipping out in the middle of the road like he probably had been all night.

Motor skills slow and sleepy, I began to lift my arm and fully extend it out the window until the end came to my pointed finger. I leaned out and aimed right at a dot of black hair that furiously paced the street. I couldn't connect the required emotion needed for a sincere and full-hearted outburst in German. So I went back to my American roots, 100 percent, and gave it my all.


Silence. The black speck of heavily-greased hair revealed a teen with a disgruntled look. There was a brief pause as we saw each other's angry faces.

I fixed my stare, burned it into his eyes and belted out with a long American draw the heartiest word I thought to be most universal... and most fitting.


He walked away. I went to bed… and awoke an hour later to the lovely sound of 16th century Austrian church bells calling the elders to service... for fifteen minutes straight.

Love to all, someone send me some good hot sauce,

Audrey "Yodeling out to you" Sykes

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