We made it! Alive! Two 8 hour flights with two small people under the age of 3 and I am still coherent enough to write to you. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. We touched down in New Delhi a week ago and so far, things are really not as crazy as I expected. Or maybe that’s the jetlag talking. It does help that we had a car already purchased and a nanny/housekeeper waiting to pitch in. And by day two we had a gardener and a driver. I might never leave India. Except for the hotness. The hot, sticky, sweat-through-your-clothes 3 times a day humidy horrow show that is monsoon season. Complete with swarms of Dengue fever-spreading mosquitoes. My beauty routine now solely consists of slathering on insect repellant and finding a tarp to tie down my hair. India is not kind to curly short hairstyles and I will probably avoid being photographed for the next 2 years. But aside from that, this place is exhilarating. We took the car out for the first time last weekend (sans driver) and braved the New Delhi roads with Husband behind the wheel, on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. Here’s what that looked like: (Ok, so I let you see that photo of me, but only because you needed to see how driving here envokes the same kind of feelings most people get on old, rickety roller coasters) Anyway, we took the kids just up the street to India Gate, a Delhi version of the Arc de Triomphe (I guess we like to live near large, monumental arcs). Tucked in the surrounding park grounds we found a huge playground called Children’s Park. It was a Sunday afternoon, so the place was packed with families and kids and vendors selling everything from cotton candy to incense. We got a lot of stares, but the Babe and Cletus didn’t waste any time assimilating. Before long, strangers started grabbing my children for photo ops. Several different people just walked over and picked up Cletus for a group shot that most definitely got posted to FB later with a tagline like, “look at this weird blonde kid we found at the park!” Thankfully (?) Cletus has no sense of stranger-danger and would happily walk away with the first axe-wielding sociopath that growled at him, so these photo shoots were not a problem. He gamely jumped into each new Indian friend’s arms and shouted “CHEEEEEESE!” So if that’s any indication of things, I think we’re going to be alright here.
A few weeks ago, I went to pick up The Babe from preschool. I don’t usually stop to chat with the teachers because it’s always chaos at pickup time, but on this particular day the head teacher pulled me aside with a rather concerned look on her face.
“Your daughter was talking about seeing all the people on fire last night. All the people and a big fire and everyone was nice and cozy,” she said, looking at me like I had roped my child into some kind of satanic ritual over the weekend.
I blanked for a second, and then I remembered: Funkenfest. That traditional Vorarlberg festival that includes music, Funkaküachle donuts and, you know, a giant flaming pyre. We had gone to check out this cultural phenomenon over the weekend at Am Himmel, a beautiful park up in the hills overlooking Vienna. The Am Himmel newsletter had promised “sparks and wine heaven” (according to google translate), so it seemed like something we shouldn’t miss.
And of course after arriving to find this incredible tower of kindling waiting for us…
I forced my kids to stay up way past their bedtimes to watch the big show.
The Babe was absolutely terrified and kept asking if Krampus was coming. Cletus wanted to run directly into the flames. But mom and dad got donuts and beer, so all in all it was a successful family outing. And thankfully The Babe’s teacher knew exactly what I was talking about, so Austrian child services did not have to be called.
Yes, I’ve been MIA for months now. But I’m making it up to you by going back and sharing all the awesome weird things we’ve been doing around here. Like celebrating the death of St. Leopold III, patron saint of Lower Austria, by taking a slide down the side of a 300 year old wine barrel roughly the size of my condo back in DC. Yes, in the spirit of Leopoldifest I climbed a ladder with The Babe and pushed her overboard first, into the arms of two wine barrel slide spotters. Then I took the (surprisingly short) plunge, making a wish for the new year before my feet touched the ground. Only in Austria.
Why head to Mardi Gras or Carnivale when you can really let your hair down for Fasching?! Here’s a sample of the Faschingsamstag party going down in my neighborhood this weekend. Please note that one of the drummers is dressed like Super Mario. But hold on to your sombreros (another popular fasching costume), because the real ruckus happens on Faschingsdienstag, also known as Fat Tuesday. That’s when all of the kindergarteners will be wearing costumes to school!
I’m guessing I shouldn’t flash anyone from my balcony?
They’re really big on social order here in Vienna. This is a place where no one crosses the street until the signal tells them to, and where the local newspaper shames you into cutting your grass by posting a photo of your slovenly yard for all to see. I thought at first that this was just one of those inherent cultural things, but come Christmas time, I quickly learned the secret to all this orderliness: the Austrians have an enforcer.
His name is Krampus. He is your perennial not-so-friendly Christmas demon, a pal of Saint Nikolo. It seems the threat of coal wasn’t an effective enough deterrent for the devious children of Austria, so Santa hired Krampus to be his heavy. Krampus looks like a cross between Satan and a wild goat. He carries whips and chains to beat the naughty kids and drag them back to hell, where they will be turned into demons themselves (please see this excellent claymation reenactment if you’re wondering what that might be like).
Around mid-November, Krampus starts appearing in chocolate form, dangling from shop windows to remind the little ones he’s watching. Krampus gingerbread cookies line the Christmas market stalls, along with creepy red devil plush toys and the even creepier vintage Krampus dolls and decorations. He’s everywhere.
But sweet edible Krampus wouldn’t be traumatizing enough to scare the masses straight. So on December 6th, grown men dress up in elaborately decorated, often hand-crafted Krampus costumes to run down a designated street in the city, scaring the begeezus out of children and adults alike. And if you’re thinking “what’s so scary about drunk guy dressed as a Satan-goat?“, just imagine this chasing you down a dark street while the do-gooders cheer with glee:
If you had that image seared into your young mind and haunting you for life, you’d always wait for the walk signal, too. Elf on a Shelf has nothing on this guy.
We are nearly three weeks deep into Christmas festivities here in Vienna, which means every street is lined with twinkly lights and every corner has someone roasting chestnuts on an open fire. But most importantly, it means the miracle of glühwein is upon us.
For the uninitiated, glühwein is a hot mulled wine beverage, sold from quaint little stands at every Christmas Market across the city. It doesn’t necessarily taste good, but it’s warm and smells like Christmas and you get to drink it outside in the dark, so it feels a bit naughty and reminds you of high school nights spent drinking pilfered booze in the woods.
It’s also exactly what you need when your children are hopped up on sugar cookies and demanding another ride on the Christmas Market carousel. Liquid anti-anxiety in a decorative mug, I tell you.
There are other kinds of warm alcohol-infused mugfuls to choose from as well, called pusnch. These include a good dose of the hard stuff, like amaretto or rum or Jaegermeister. I tried something called a turbo punch that probably had all of the above, since it tasted like hot jungle juice and made my face numb. My favorite was a Mexicaner punsch, spiced with cinnamon and primarily based on straight tequila. Probably not the most authentic, but points for creativity.
That’s all to say that the glühwein/punsch options are vast and sugary, and the perfect accompaniment to a cold, snowy night. Or, afternoon, since the sun goes down at 4pm. Or morning, if you happen to find yourself at a market that opens early. I won’t judge, because I’ll probably already have a mug in hand.