Another installment of the European emails/letters; these begin on(or about) the train from Munich to Innsbruck.
Once again, then, you have my permission to eavesdrop—if you wish.
The train left on time, of course (no German anything would dare do otherwise). But I almost didn't leave with it.
Two suitcases seemed reasonable when I was packing. But the looks from the other passengers... The compartments are built to hold one—small—suitcase a person. I had to go put my second one in another compartment; and my fellow passengers were not, um, appreciative.
There was a very disapproving older German couple in my compartment. (Right across from me, actually. Joy.) The lady was the image of a hausfrau—short, stout, white-haired, reserved, no-nonsense—and her glare was almost enough to blister my skin.
That humiliation (accompanied by profuse apologies and sheepish looks) over, I settled back into a rather plush seat. The trains in India aren't near this comfy—way more crowds and sweat, for starters—but all trains have the same charm: actually being able to observe the land through which you're passing. They provide a continuous journey, instead of a suspension between destinations.
And this one... It's the Kufstein/Rosenheim route, the faster and more “boring” one. (Or so I was told—funny, the clerks at Wombats didn't look irretrievably jaded...)
So I wasn't expecting... Well, this.
The track runs through the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, and my neck literally hurt by the time the hour-and-45 trip was done. My seat was in the middle (I didn't dare ask anyone to switch); I was craning my neck to see out the window the entire time—and ignoring the very nice man attempting to have a polite conversation with me in the process. *looks abashed* Horribly uncivil of me, I know.
We pulled into the station at Innsbruck and I still hadn't caught my breath—the view from the station didn't help, not to mention wondering if I'd be able to get all my bags off the train in time—and then came something smaller than the mountains, but almost as lovely.
The male half of that old, stout, disapproving German couple helped me with my bags. I was so grateful—I couldn't've gotten off the train in time without him—and it was so unexpected. Even though their faces had softened during the ride, the two of them had been so utterly irritated when I was getting on. (I'd felt as though I had “spoiled, inconsiderate American tourist” tattooed, somewhat accurately, on my forehead.)
Then I straightened from lugging the second bag from the rack overhead. And that grim, proper, reserved old German lady reached out and straightened my (long and somewhat the worse for wear) t-shirt.
I turned in surprise, to thank her, and she gave me a smile that went all the way to her eyes.
I felt like I'd won a prize.
That admonishing smile—it was like she'd decided that the annoying American student wasn't totally without merit after all. Or at least that my small (but perhaps developing) virtues deserved some encouragement.
I was still beaming as the train pulled out.
Quick update on my first day of class.
Scalia is amazing. So funny, and so forceful. The assertions he makes are not the whole truth, but they are so impeccably supported and stated with such conviction that if you didn't know the holes already you'd never see them. Now that I've been taught by him I can understand why his opinions are masterpieces of syllogistic logic; if you don't have the background to understand his logic—or someone of equal brilliance, like Rehnquist, pointing out the holes for you in a dissent—you will never, ever, ever find them.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, F***ING brilliant. I'm going to love every single freaking second of this.
Oh, and I'm apparently one of the only people in his class who belongs there. *smirks smugly*: "How many of you have read the Federalist Papers? No, not just 48 and 72, all of them. Three? Disgraceful. How do you expect to understand the Constitution or the country you live in if you don't understand the thought process that went into it? Read them. All of them. Then review your notes from this class and maybe you'll learn something."
...So my Crim Pro prof is great too—he's a genuine comparative scholar, absolutely hilarious, and very critical of the jury system, all of which I appreciate greatly—though Comp Torts promises to be dreary as all hell. But honestly, when you start the day with Scalia, having even one class be as good is amazing. (Besides, I don't really like Torts- I just needed a 6th credit hour.)
Nom de dieu... I got caught in the rain—a downpour—on the way home from class, so my front got soaked because my raincoat wouldn't close because it was wrapped around my backpack too. (I'm drip-dry; my computer isn't.) I'm wearing a salwar kameez and had the scarf wrapped around my front, so it was the only thing that got soaking wet; but by the time I walked into the lobby I'm sure I looked like a drowned rat. I just avoided the incredulous looks and headed straight for the elevator. (Gotta love salwars; the damn things dry like nobody's business.)
Good thing too; need a shower before the Big Damn Reception tonight, though the one I'm really looking forward to is the one with Scalia next week. This one's at the Schloss Ambras, which is a castle, so it should be pretty spectacular.
...No, I haven't changed my mind. But you do have some justice on your side. There are times when my sensibilities consternate even me.
There was a lanky, soft-spoken man named Max sitting beside me on the train; he was from the area. We could've had a fascinating conversation—we talked about the Tirol and my plans and my schooling and his hometown (near the Zugspitze) and his job (he's a photographer) and tennis (he's a player)—and, oddly enough, Scotch and apfelschnapp (?!)... but I kept breaking off to turn my head and look out the window.
Execrable manners. I felt bad even as I did it. Max was obviously a gentleman—so courteous, and so genuinely interested in the conversation. And it held such potential—I could've learned so much about photography from him, not to mention the local culture (including the apfelschnapp, which he makes!)...
But I couldn't help it. Literally. I felt like my head was on a leash and my neck on a pivot. Idle talk in the presence of majesty like this is like—like deciding to brush your teeth while standing in the middle of the Roman Forum.
Yeah, you should probably do it at some point—but now?
...And lately—just for added irritation—random, totally irrelevant and inaccurate thoughts keep intruding too. I'd explained to Max why I kept turning away (leaving out similes involving toothbrushes). He smiled widely, and I felt guilty enough to try and turn my head to talk to him again at least a couple of times after that. When I did he was already looking in my direction, and a small part of me wondered uncomfortably if he was looking at me... before I realized that the Tirolian Alps were also in that direction. And that he's from the Tirol—and a photographer.
Talk about ego. Or rather, paranoia. *snarls at the jackassery of Aussie surfer geologists*
...I think I might have to concede your point on this one.
P.S. Funny thing happened just before Torts; a couple of the women sitting behind me asked, "Are you Sumi?" Somewhat startled, I smiled and nodded, and they said "We heard through the grapevine that you were an MD-JD...?" with the rising inflection that invites one to elaborate. So I affirmed it and discussed it with them for about 2 minutes. They said, when I asked, that Mike D***** told them.
I said, "I don't think I've met him."
The GRAPEVINE? I've been here for 3 1/2 days and know like 10 people out of a program of 90—and out of those, only four have I actually told what my dual-degree is in (I generally say when they ask where I'm from that I'm doing a dual degree at SIU). I've learned through experience that it's not the first or even the second thing I want people to know about me if I want them to be comfortable around me; normally it takes days for people to act normal around me after that.
How would random people I don't know even by sight know this? More crucially, why in hell would they even care?
Just—weirdness. Again. Dude, thought I was safe with fellow Yanks.
...He's not just any Justice. Antonin Scalia is one of the most senior, and his opinions are masterpieces of syllogistic logic. Not a hole in any of them, and now that I've been taught by him I can understand why. He is one of the most brilliant—if not the MOST brilliant—American jurists alive. The fact that he adds wit, charm, and force to that makes for a very potent cocktail indeed.
And this is not to mention that I'd be hard-put to find a single opinion of his with which I agree. More—that I don't vehemently dislike.
As for tripping my trigger—you're damn straight he does. Just like any teacher whose virtuosity I admire, he sets my mind ablaze.
Of course I'd expected it to be beautiful. But I can't—I didn't—it's nearly impossible to explain... I wasn't expecting this. Had no way of even guessing this.
Yes, the Alps are storied. But I grew up amongst mountains—the Smokies, the Nilgiris—and I always thought the praise was overblown. You know, the sort of raptures born of rubes traveling away from home for the first time.
I owe an apology to those non-rubes. As soon as I can catch my breath to give it.
The mountains are overpowering, overwhelming, overaweing—whatever superlative you can come up with—whatever description will carry them above and beyond any idea of stone, sky, and vision you've ever had—that is what they are. It's not just that I can't ignore them. Or more accurately, that I can't tear my eyes away from them—that I lose pieces of my lectures gazing out of the classroom window.
It's that I'll never forget them. I have enough ineradicable mental images of deathless beauty to be able to recognize them when they take up residence in my head. I'll never be able to leave them behind. Never get over them. (Not literally. Perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to summit one. One of the lower ones.)
Never fall out of love.
That's what it was: love at first sight... if a sight could be said to be like drowning. The mountains washed over me like a riptide. It's a roaring, thunderous enchantment.
I don't want to surface.
Which is just as well. Because I don't think I ever will.
The reception was amazing—Schloss Ambras is incredibly beautiful, and I'm planning on spending an entire afternoon there sometime soon. With a camera, this time... though on of the girls on my floor was fooling around with mine after we got back to the hotel, and snapped a couple of pictures. They aren't very good, though.
The reception was beautiful too, but I don't think it was as you're picturing it. There was no dancing—it was more of a dinner party sort of thing.
...Also, it just brought some of my mental/cultural tics home. What I was wearing covered more of me than any of the other women students' clothes; I've never seen so much skin in weather so chill. For the most part the women looked great (you know I've no objection to skin, I just don't show that much of mine), though there were a few outfits that made me flinch on purely (lack of) aesthetic grounds...
I enjoy most formal receptions, but this one was slightly awkward; I didn't know most of the people, and St. M's students are fairly clique-y. I generally don't worry about that sort of thing, though; and I had a good time—there were several very friendly people there.
...Yes, I love that outfit, and I think it did look nice. One of my colleagues used the word "princess", and I think he meant it in terms of looks, not attitude; it made me regret not having pictures, later. Next time I'll try to remember, okay? Promise.
And what on earth does this sentence mean? "So it's like the same thing but... well... more...ish." Given the spelling, I'm assuming you're not referring to stylistic resemblance to outposts of the Ottoman Empire... Confused. Help me out here.
Salsa dancing! I'm so excited—salsa is awesome and I've never had the chance to learn before, much less to learn from someone who grew up doing it. I'm ridiculously happy about it, and my only regret is that I didn't bring any "club clothes". Damn. Jeans and a spaghetti tank, I guess...
By the way, Bea says you sound "bueno macho". (She asked about you and I told her a little. Thought I'd pass on the compliment.)
Got drenched AGAIN—bloody Alpine summers (though truthfully if I didn’t insist on carting my computer around everywhere I’d have a raincoat that closed; still, I’d rather be drenched than computerless)—and came back to shower (the water may be some of the purest in the world, but that doesn’t mean your clothes don’t itch on you as they dry) and missed the times for the Hofburg Palace. Curses! Foiled again!
Decided then to put my free time to good use and give myself a pedicure (the shoes I may have to wear to Scalia’s reception are sort of strappy) and discovered that it was far easier said than done.
Tip: Never try to give yourself a pedicure in a European shower stall. (No doubt this will be of great use to you in your life to come.)
...Ah, writing. If I could bottle it, I could sell it like cocaine… well, perhaps not. The only persons who would buy it are those who could appreciate it already, I suppose; and that’s somewhat redundant.
Why is it that my get-rich-quick schemes always wind up involving things in which only I’m interested? —The last was a romance novel involving Optimus Prime. *shakes head more in sorrow than in anger*
The countryside is amazingly beautiful; so much so that it's literally impossible to describe. I've never been in a place that rendered me powerless with its beauty, but this place does—Innsbruck is in a long, narrow valley in the Alps, and nothing you've ever seen or been told will suffice to describe the effect of them.
This city is lovely, as well; I hadn’t realized that the town of Innsbruck itself has been around for more than 800 years. 800! Holy cow. Knocks my Eastern uppityness into a cocked hat- Bangalore wasn’t founded till around 600 years ago, no matter what the official histories say. The history connected with this place is simply amazing, and more than a little overwhelming. Not to mention the surroundings—well, I took some pictures out my bedroom window last evening, and should post them soon. Everywhere you look you’re overawed. I find it hard not to get a crick in my neck from craning to look at the mountains and buildings at the same time.
The folk museum, though, was more than a bit dreary—the best part was the bit with the crèche scenes… some of them were incredibly elaborate. Still, I could have saved myself a few Euro (and study time some other day) by heading straight to the Hofburg.
I'm getting along, but the first two (and so far, only) people to have been rude to me because I was an American were a bus driver and passenger here in Innsbruck. *shrugs* Not a big. Everyone else is friendly, and very kind. There’s a troubling bit of xenophobia, though; it’s much more insular than Germany (who’d have thought, really—but I suppose it IS much smaller—Innsbruck is only 150,000 people). There’s a genuine bias against foreigners (which is funny in a pathetic sort of way; this place’s livelihood is tourism) and those who don't speak German. There are immigrants holding terminal degrees and working menial jobs because they don’t speak German—I was reading a story about the Nigerian population here, and there are many such people in that community.
It seems illogical—why drain your own brain pool?—especially since Monica told me that in Tirol all schoolchildren start learning English at 6. Most people here speak some; there should be a way to accommodate highly qualified workers until they learn the official language…
Strange, and not a little irrational. The only upside to this very depressing confirmation that, yes indeed, human beings are idiots, is that I know for certain it’s not just we Americans, or Indians, who are jackasses about such things.
A/N: That's all for now; more from Innsbruck—and side trips—some other time...
1/17/2010 at 11:18
Epistolarian (& Eavesdropping), Part 2
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