Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Deja Vu? Am I Back in the U.S.?

For as much as we loved living in our little overpriced U.S. zip code, with its overeducated parents helicoptering above their over scheduled progenies, we were ecstatic about life in Europe, particularly with having our children attend an international school.  And so far, our expectations about the school have either been met or have been exceeded. Academics and extracurricular activities aside for the moment, the "personal responsibility" approach at AIS has been refreshing. As has being away from PTF moms who thought Starbucks coupons were ideal rewards for students who participated in "Turn off the TV Week," but wanted quinoa burgers in the cafeteria.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, there have been two occasions where I wonder if I have not fallen into a rabbit-hole and landed back in the U.S.  The first occurred earlier this week, at the AIS strings and band autumn performances. Now, school performances are not formal events, but at least some measure of respect to the student musicians should be shown by the parents, particularly with attire. For the most part, parents dressed acceptably, with many bordering on well-dressed. Then there were (some) American parents. Flip flops!  Sweatpants!  Hoodies! Parents who looked as if they were in between cleaning their toilet and washing the dog, and had decided to drop in on the concerts. Utterly disgraceful, but not out of line with what we encountered back "home." Given that either the government or some private corporation is footing the €18.000 tuition bill (no pun intended) for our students, is it too much for mom to swing even the €10 for a cheap pair of H&M flats?
Thank you, Internet, for the photo

The second occasion is of multiple parts. A PTF survey arrived in my inbox, asking for my thoughts on the vending machine offerings at the school. Harmless enough, until I opened the terribly biased survey that had every whiff of a crazy Michele Obama/"Let's Move"/"Damn the Tater Tots" agenda that (only?) an American would try to push.  The survey even rankled Tony to the point where he actually completed it. This may be a first.

Coincidentally, or not, the AIS cafeteria held an Open House this week, offering parents a small dinner and the chance to learn more about the food services program. I attended, not because we have any issues with the food service, but rather because I was both generally curious (there was a kitchen tour!) and suspicious of the timing of this event in relation to the survey. 

To add a dash of perspective, this is a usual lunch menu for AIS. 
From the Open House menu I selected Fish with Red Curry Sauce, which was beautifully presented on real dishes and with real flatware (this is a private school, after all), the fish with a small serving of curry sauce and the rice having a sprinkling of chopped chives for garnish. I also prepared a super fresh salad with peppers and tiny white beans. Everything was quite good. 

Then the "Open" part of the "Open House" started. And just as I sadly suspected, there are some parents trying to hijack personal responsibility in the cafeteria. The food services director explained that the menus reflect tried and true offerings for students of all ages, but that didn't stop some parents from complaining that the menu was "too fancy."  WTH? Would that family prefer an American public school lunch menu (this one is from our U.S. school system. Nothing fancy there. Just "Blech.")
Some parents complained that their children do not like the garnish, and when the director explained that they can ask for a plate without garnish, these crazy parents felt that put too much burden on their little darlings. Good grief. By this point my head was starting to hurt. Other parents complained that the school should not permit students to purchase sodas on their lunch card. And on it went.

The entitled parent nuttiness reached a climax when one mom stood up to complain, "My son likes plain chicken. Everything you serve is too spicy." I could not resist adding, though I remained seated, "My daughter thinks some of the food is not spicy enough." Neither of us are right, and neither of us have any right to impose our student's food quirks on others. The simple solution is for me to pack extra-spicy curried lentils for Anna Grace, and for the other moms to pack ungarnished rice and plain chicken. Problem solved. Somehow I don't think this is going to have a good ending, though.

At least the tour was enjoyable. It was rejuvenating to be inside a kitchen of respectable size. The director informed me that the kitchen was established in 1950. Just gorgeous.
Spices!  With the exception of mashed potatoes and Schnitzel, all of the meals are prepared in the AIS kitchen. No preservatives, no added anything. Oh, and one (Bentley-driving) parent complained that the mashed potatoes are powdered (the director explained that there is not enough time to peel and cook fresh potatoes). Was this parent even real?  Perhaps the Bentley owner can loan one of his housekeeping staff to AIS on mashed potatoes day. 
Look at the fresh field greens!  They are delivered each morning, I learned.
This is what fresh made cream of pea soup looks like. I sampled; it was delicious.
I left AIS, my tummy happy with the curried fish, but my head aching over having fallen into the rabbit hole this week. Where are my sparkly red heels to click, to send me back to Vienna?



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vienna's Oldest Jewish Cemetery

I've trammed past the stop near this cemetery countless times since living here, and finally made getting off the tram to explore a priority. Tucked behind a hideous 1970's-era city-run retirement home are the remains of not only Vienna's oldest Jewish cemetery, but one of Europe's oldest cemeteries in general, dating back to the 1500s, before Jews were even permitted to freely live in Vienna.

The cemetery is in Alsergrund, Vienna's 9th district and Döbling's neighbor district to the south. To access the cemetery one passes through the main reception of the retirement home into the courtyard. Perhaps it's just me, but should I ever reside in a retirement home, I don't think I would want a room with a cemetery view. 
The cemetery is not as well-restored or maintained as I was expecting, given that it was purchased by the city in 1978 with the commitment to restoration and maintenance, though I do not know its previous condition, and there seemed to be a crew doing something on the grounds. The large sarcophagus on the right is that of Samson Wertheimer. He was a financier and creditor to the Hapsburg Court, and the chief rabbi of Hungary and Moravia (now part of Czech Republic).
Naturally, the Nazis found their way here in their efforts to "dissolve" all Jewish cemeteries. They destroyed gravestones and exhumed human remains (!), but thankfully a group of courageous Jews relocated many markers and remains to Vienna's Central Cemetery, where they were discovered and returned several years ago.


The cemetery can only be viewed from the slightly elevated walkway that borders two sides and connects with the old age home and the adjacent building. I was disappointed to watch as staff from both buildings used the walkway and benches for their smoke break. Seems disrespectful to me to light up in a cemetery, but what do I know?
This stone fish monument is a curious piece, believed to be a medieval fountain for ritual washing. Legend holds that it resides on the burial site of a demon fish who recited a traditional Jewish prayer right before it was to be slaughtered.
The Jüdischer Friedhof Rossau. Peace to all their souls.