The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

The Aardvark Speaks : creatures great & small

This page contains the last 50 stories posted to this category, sorted in chronological order (earliest first). For earlier stories, you need to check out the monthly archives.

Clouds (7)

Clouds (7)

Posted by Horst on August 13, 2006 | # | Comments (0)


I am told that every Austrian has at least one mobile phone. So why is it that the shops of the mobile phone companies are always full of queues of people who look as if they wanted to buy a mobile phone? Is a mobile phone something like a disposable razor, a thing that you use for a while and then throw away and get a new one? Or, just how many does "at least one" mean?

Posted by Horst on September 02, 2006 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)


When the Stockholm metro was extended in the 1970s, there were plans to develop a stretch of land in an area called Kymlinge. However, while the station there was already being built, the municipality decided otherwise, so the construction workers moved out and the station was never completed. The abandoned station site at Kymlinge is now something of a ghost station.

When Vienna's metro line U1 was extended only very recently, there were plans to develop a stretch of land called Brachmühle near a street called Aderklaaer Strasse. However, while the station there was already being built, several things went wrong, and the project now seems to be delayed indefinitely. Still, work on the station went on, and it was opened with the rest of the line last Saturday. Trains are stopping there too, the only problem being that there is really no residential or commercial area of any importance nearby, so most of the time there is no-one on the platform, and no-one gets off or on the trains.

It's a kind of ghost station too, only somewhat spookier than Kymlinge, because Kymlinge is dark and the trains pass through it at 80kph, whereas at Aderklaaer Strasse the ghosts could actually board the the train if they wanted to.

Posted by Horst on September 04, 2006 | # | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)


When one of the Austrian political parties recently put up posters on which their leading candidate for the upcoming elections looked remarkably diabolic, I thought we were in for an interesting campaign. Presenting their candidate with an arrogant, almost evil grin, combined with the slogan "Because he can do it", which in this context also sounded rather sinister, certainly seemed to be a novel concept.

Unfortunately it will be impossible to tell how it would have worked out, as the posters were replaced less than a week after they had first been put up. Whether the diabolic picture was chosen by accident, or whether it was a nasty prank by an advertising agency will remain a mystery, as will the question just how attractive a politician looking like the devil is to voters.

Posted by Horst on September 11, 2006 | # | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


From the series "potentially disgusting mysteries":

Every time I leave a men's room and the door handle is wet, I ask myself whether it's wet because the person who left before me washed his hands, or whether it's because that person didn't wash his hands.

The question is slightly more disquieting if paper towels are actually available.

Posted by Horst on October 15, 2006 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)


On the tram home from work I was stuck behind a moderate weirdo who, every time the tram stopped at a station, asked everybody around him several times if this tram was going to Mariahilferstrasse. He kept asking it at every further stop, even though everybody around him kept assuring him it was.

After the routine had been repeated for eight times and his stop was approaching, I started becoming increasingly doubtful whether he would actually get off the tram at the required stop.

By the time we got there I was certain he wouldn't.

He did.

Posted by Horst on October 19, 2006 | # | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


As you climb the Lindkogel, an 847m (2780ft) hill near the town of Baden south of Vienna, you pass two wooden benches at the side of the footpath about 20 minutes before you reach the Eisernes Tor (Iron Gate) which marks the peak of the hill. Interestingly, inscriptions have been carved into the wood on both benches.

The inscription on the left bench says "Haserl-Bank" ("bunnyrabbit bench"), and I have no idea (nor do I really want to know) what this is supposed to signify.

The other bench has a longish text on it, a commemorative inscription in honour of somebody named Franz Nussbaumer, who in the year 2001, at the age of 85, apparently "defeated the Iron Gate" for the 8000th time. Which I take it means that Mr Nussbaumer climbed that hill (essentially a three-hour hike) 8000 times.

I calculated that this means that Mr Nussbaumer either first climbed the hill at age 20 and then returned every third day; or that he first climbed the hill at age 42 and then returned every other day; or that he started climbing the hill at age 63 and then climbed the hill every day. Either option has a somewhat spooky dimension about it.

Frighteningly, unless he was the postman delivering the mail to the inn at the top of the hill and decided to do it on foot, the last and spookiest option seems to be the most likely one since you can only climb hills on a daily basis once you're in retirement.

Of course Mr Nussbaumer's feat (and no doubt his physical condition) is rather impressive, commendable and certainly worthy of receiving a commemorative inscription on a bench. Still, trying to figure out the exact motivation behind climbing the same hill 8000 times over a 20-year period is a perfect enigma, at least as far as I am concerned.

The Iron Gate, by the way, is the most disappointing thing I've ever seen on top of a hill.

Posted by Horst on October 27, 2006 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


I went to the strangest concert ever.

They said that the first act would start at 5:45, and when I entered at 5:46, they had already started. They said that the main act would start at 8:00, and they did.

Even though I was crammed in a big hall with hundreds of other people, my t-shirt wasn't soaked with sweat afterwards. That's because they had some clever air conditioning that seemed to always kick in at exactly the right temperature.

I could still wear the shirt that I wore to the concert if I wanted to, because it doesn't smell of cigarette smoke at all. That's because there was a total smoking ban in the entire venue, for the entire evening.

It should be obvious by now that the concert did not take place in Vienna.

Funny enough, even though it was one of the loudest concerts I've ever been to, my ears aren't ringing, and I don't feel particularly deaf. I wonder if that could also be connected with the fact that the concert didn't take place in Vienna. It's unlikely, but then I can't think of another reason that would make sense.

Posted by Horst on November 19, 2006 | # | Comments (6)


Identical twins are cute up to the age of eight or so; then the concept is getting a bit strange, and gets spookier the older they get. Actually, it's pretty freaking spooky from age 30 onwards.

Identical twins who wear identical clothes, while not particularly original, can be kind of cute up to the age of four or so; from then on I consider it weirdness.

The other day I saw two identical twins aged around fifty and wearing identical clothes, and it almost freaked me out.

Posted by Horst on November 21, 2006 | # | Comments (4)


Giant white rabbit

One of the things I like about modern art is its constant potential for surprise. A few years ago, I was confronted with a 6ft rat. Yesterday, it was a giant rabbit. And live gherkins.

Live gherkins

The exhibition "Emerging Artists Switzerland" is on until 25 February 2007 at the Sammlung Essl.

Posted by Horst on November 27, 2006 | # | Comments (6)


Ever since seeing the gherkin video at that exhibition on Sunday, I've had this craving for gherkins. I finally had some today. They were delicious.

Posted by Horst on November 28, 2006 | # | Comments (1)


Friends of mine had watched The Big Lebowski and wanted to go bowling. I never understood that movie, but I suppose it's one of those movies that are not supposed to be understood in the first place. Anyway, while I think the movie is rather pointless, I have no such problem with bowling.

As a consequence, today I held a bowling ball in my hands for the first time in my life. Actually, I held several of different weights until I found out that size 11 seemed to yield the best results.

Incidentally, I won. By a respectable margin, I might add, and despite the fact that they had the most awful music blearing from the speakers, music that was obviously designed to break the players' concentration. It was probably beginner's luck, or I was really the most competent person in our group, or the least incompetent.

Any way, it felt good. Even though I also won the prize for Most Embarrassing Moment of the Evening, when the ball slipped off my fingers while I was swinging it backwards and it seemed for a brief moment as if it would knock over people instead of pins. Thankfully, that moment passed rather quickly, and nobody was hurt.

Posted by Horst on December 10, 2006 | # | Comments (2)


The woman in front of me in the supermarket queue bought ten slotted spoons and one whole raw pig's leg.

I am always baffled about apparent non-sequiturs that occur outside Monty Python sketches.

And I got really weird ideas about those slotted spoons.

Posted by Horst on January 11, 2007 | # | Comments (4)


There's this man living in the neighbourhood who seems to be content wearing nothing but a polo shirt, shorts, and sandals all the time. I've noticed him several times and his dresscode seems to be persistent, and it doesn't seem to be his response to the unbelievably mild winter we are having this year because I also saw him on the one cold day that we had, and he was wearing the exact same thing.

That one cold day was that day when a friend asked me if my shirt was really everything I was wearing underneath my jacket, and if I wasn't feeling cold like that, and I said I wasn't. A little while later we were encountering the man in the polo shirt, the shorts and the sandals walking his dog, and it looked bizarre, him compared to everybody else in the street, all of them wearing thick coats and jackets.

I remember when I was living in Scotland I was one of the few students who didn't show up at the lectures in a t-shirt, but contrary to everybody else I seemed to be the only one impressed by the snow storm outside. I also remember that a week later, the collective coughing and sneezing was so loud you could barely hear the lecturer, and I remembered pitying him for the amount of viruses and bacteria dispelled in his direction.

But even in Scotland, no-one was wearing shorts. But then again, in Scotland no-one above the age of ten is wearing shorts.

Posted by Horst on January 14, 2007 | # | Comments (6)


I've been wanting to blog about a brief snippet of a conversation that I had with Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress on the evening after the BlogTalk conference in Vienna last year. His software business aside, Matt also is (used to be?) a saxophone player, and that evening someone asked him who he thought was the best saxophone player in history.

Matt said something to the effect of, "well, best I don't know, but John Coltrane would probably be the most important one. And I used to like Stan Getz a lot."

I found that statement very interesting, mostly because I agree. Not about Stan Getz, but about John Coltrane probably being the most important one, but hesitating to call him the best one.

For some reason it seems to be hard to call Coltrane your favourite saxophone player, even though it's totally impossible to doubt his greatness even for a second. Even though my favourite jazz album of all times is most certainly and without a doubt Coltrane's The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings and even though I must have listened to Coltrane more intensively than to any other jazz musician, I would still not call him my favourite. And while I think that much of his music bears the stroke of genius, I'm not even sure whether I would call it beautiful.

I have no idea why.

Chet Baker, for example, had a different kind of genius, and he made some of the most beautiful jazz records that I know. But I wouldn't really call him all that important. I'd probably call him my favourite. But his music adresses a totally different section of my brain, and none of his albums would make my Top 3 of favourite jazz records (even though his Live in Tokyo is a close fourth.

Oddly enough, while I could name a favourite drummer, a favourite trumpet player, a favourite bass player, a favourite pianist even, I can't think of a single jazz musician that I would call my favourite saxophone player.

No idea why the brain works that way.

Posted by Horst on January 26, 2007 | # | Comments (2)


I always thought that engagements only happen in American movies and American TV series. I don't think I know anybody who got officially engaged before they got married, with engagement ring, huge hoo-ha and everything. I always though it was something of an anachronism, and I'm saying that as a person who's somewhat more romantically inclined than the average Austrian. Engagements in American movies and American TV series always looked all soupy and syrupy.

And now I've got the message that Suw got engaged. Which is wonderful news of course, but it still makes me feel as if she was suddenly relocated into an American TV series and as if I will soon be able to see Chocolate and Vodka on a TV screen near me anytime soon.

It also made me realize that I know nothing about English dating and wedding rituals. Engagements may be perfectly normal there. Of course her fiancé is American, which could also explain things.

Anyway, I wish her and Kevin the best of luck.

Posted by Horst on January 27, 2007 | # | Comments (7)


I met a friend of mine in a bar earlier tonight, and she said something like, "There are a lot of drunk Russians everywhere in the city tonight", and I said something like, "Russians? Why Russians?", and she said something like, "Well I don't know, but they're everywhere."

On my way home I noticed that there were indeed a lot of drunk Russians about, like the two in Stephansplatz subway station. One of them had a bottle of cognac in his hand, and they were trying to communicate with each other, but gave the impression that all communication was failing to due high cognac intake from earlier on.

Yes, cognac. Not vodka. And please don't ask me why Russians or why cognac. I don't have the slightest idea.

Posted by Horst on January 28, 2007 | # | Comments (3)


Need a good & cheap hi-fi amplifier from a trustworthy source?
Look no further than here: My old amplifier is for sale at ebay.

Posted by Horst on January 29, 2007 | # | Comments (5)


A recent posting on Scott's Flickr Page had me think that I could possibly apply for one of those TV shows where some next-door person appears, claims he has some weird ability and then demonstrates it with or without some celebrity betting that they can/can't do it.

Anyway, as I realized through Scott's photograph, one of my marketable abilities could be to identify Vienna underground stations from pictures of the escalators therein. Like most things on TV it's perfectly useless, but hey, so were most of those forklift stunts they did in the 1980s. At least whenever somebody sees me in an underground station and recognizes me from the show, they'll get that sense of security that whenever they get lost, they can always ask me where they are.

Which, oddly enough, happens a lot lately even though I haven't showed off my escalator stunt in any TV show yet.

Posted by Horst on January 30, 2007 | # | Comments (2)

The violin player looked unhappy

At the concert, they had, among other things, a bass saxophone, which is a huge tubey thing about twice the size of the saxophone player with long, long tubes that wind around the whole thing two or three times. The sound comes out at the top end of the thing. The way it was played it sounded like deep, sustained farting noises, which were played into an overhead microphone. The tuba player also had an overhead microphone, and he made sounds like I've never heard out of a tuba. At one point it sounded like someone stepping on a a couple of hamsters, and I mean the squeaking and the crunching noises.

When they had finished, there was frenetic applause from the audience. it was the kind of moment where you ask yourself which percentage of those present actually liked what they had heard, and how many only applauded because the artist was this really famous guy.

The violin player looked unhappy. She looked unhappy while she was playing, and when the band received the frenetic applause, it seemed as if she didn't really believe it. I got the suspicion that possibly the drummer was her boyfriend, and that's why she played in that band, but perhaps she was enjoying herself and just couldn't show it all that well.

I kind of liked her. I think she was pretty. I also liked the concert, though it was really weird. Afterwards, I thought about putting John Coltrane's Om on my stereo to relax a bit. Then I realized I don't have that album, so I settled for something else.

My brain still hurts.

Posted by Horst on February 15, 2007 | # | Comments (8)

Ear, nose, throat

There's this virus going around that affects your entire ear, nose and throat region, but not everything at once. It affects one section per day really painfully, and then the next day it has moved on to the next section and hurts there. I never went from a tonsilitis to a laryngitis to a common cold in three days. The interesting thing about this virus is, (a) you know why ear nose & throat doctors are, well, ear nose & throat doctors, and (b) you can actually feel how these regions are connected. Quite painfully so, actually. It's like applied anatomy, only you don't need anyone to explain the actual items to you because every day a single one of them hurts, parts that you never even knew existed in your ear nose & throat region.

Laryngitis, by the way. Come to think of it, I never used to have it before I started teaching. And ever since I keep having it more or less irregularly, I'm not sure if one day with a really sexy voice is worth several days of pain and several days without a voice. So this current virus with just one day of pain was something of an improvement.

Posted by Horst on March 27, 2007 | # | Comments (5)

Alibi post for April, pretending I still write blog entries every once in a while

Lifts (or elevators, for those from across the big blue sea) generally have two buttons to make them come to your floor. One with an arrow pointing upwards, which you press if you want to go up, and another one with an arrow pointing downwards, which you press if you want to go down. Consequently, on the top floor you will find only one button, pointing downwards and on the bottom floor you will find only one button, pointing upwards.

So much for a quick introduction to lift buttons.

Oddly enough, most people tend to misunderstand the lift buttons in a major way. They try to determine where the lift actually is (sometimes a floor indicator helps), and then they press the button in which they want the lift to move. So if they are standing on the second floor and if the lift is on the eighth floor they press the "down" button even though they really want to go up.

Which means that you stand in front of the lift door on the bottom floor, and it opend, and you politely wait for people to get out, but they won't because they never wanted to go down in the first place, and then all the way up you have to listen to their angry complaints about the stupid lift and how they are going to have the janitor fired one of these days for not fixing it.

And it's like you want to tell them how the buttons really work, but somehow you know it's probably not a good idea.

Posted by Horst on April 30, 2007 | # | Comments (14)


On Saturday, as I rode my bicycle to work, I witnessed another person on a bicycle, as we call it, "descend over the handlebars". I knew this was something that could happen if you applied only the front brakes, but until then I had never actually seen it happen. It was fascinating in a strange way, and slightly frightening. The person did not seem to be very hurt; lucky he was wearing a helmet.

I then encountered one of those motorcyclists on one of those extra large motorbikes on which they are sitting with their legs spread widely in such a way that you don't know whether there's no other way of sitting on these things, or whether it's a kind of covert sexual harassment.

At any rate he was wearing one of those crash helmets that people on such motorbikes usually wear, the kind that looks like a chamber pot without a handle. It also looks somewhat like a Wehrmacht helmet, but really more like a chamber pot without a handle. It also looks as if it could withstand a ricocheting bullet from an assault rifle, but not really the effects of a motorcycle crash. I wonder if those helmets are legal or if the police just don't say anything because they feel threatened by the sexually implicit pose of the rider on the motorbike.

Nothing serious happened until much later, when I closed a window and the glass pane broke right there and then, without any intervention on my part. It cut my left hand, not seriously, but enough to bleed a bit.

Then on my way home my rear tyre got caught in a tramway rail as I was crossing it. No idea why and how this happened, as the angle should have been safe. With an extreme amount of luck I managed to get out of the rail without falling off the bike, only slightly dislocating the seat in the process.

I had had plans to go inline skating later that day, which I postponed because I felt like I had been close to enough near accidents that day.

Yesterday morning I had a strange dream about a minor train accident in which a defective railway carriage became uncoupled from a train, coasted on at some distance after the train from which it had been uncoupled, and then crashed into the train at low speed when the train stopped, causing some, but not much damage, and causing no injuries (this is, by the way, technically impossible, because any carriage becoming uncoupled causes the immediate application of the brakes on both the train and the carriage itself). A few hours later I read in an online newspaper that earlier that day there had been a minor train accident at one of Vienna's railway stations when they had tried to uncouple a defective carriage from a train and collided with a shunting engine in the process.

It would be really helpful if these omens and visions occurred in such a way that it would be easy to determine whether I am a psychic of some sort or whether all of this is just coincidence. As it is, I remain totally clueless.

Posted by Horst on May 01, 2007 | # | Comments (5)


Recently in France, I saw a Simpsons DVD box and thought there was something wrong about it without being able to tell what it was.

The Simpsons in French

In the end, I brought it down to something as minor as the missing "s" at the end of "Simpsons", which is not at all incorrect, but simply what would happen if you translated "The Simpsons" into French.

Then briefly afterwards, I realized that the German version of the box would look even stranger, possibly even disturbing, to native speakers of English.

The Simpsons in German

Posted by Horst on June 15, 2007 | # | Comments (10)


(1) The correct spelling: definitely
(2) The spelling most widely used on the Internet: definately
(3) The spelling that came out when I typed it a while ago, probably because I had seen (2) too often: defiantly
(4) The spelling used on a website that I visited today: defeniately

Posted by Horst on June 18, 2007 | # | Comments (7)


I can't help but think that whoever is responsible for the design of the new tramways in Montpellier, France is also a big fan of the music of saxophonist Archie Shepp.

Archie Shepp album cover vs. tramway in Montpellier, France

Posted by Horst on June 19, 2007 | # | Comments (2)


I herewith claim ownership of a term that I came up with yesterday, and it is mine and I own it and what it is too.

I call it the theory of the "New Seriousness". It's not really a new phenomenon, in fact it's been around for a while, it's just that nobody has named it yet. I became aware of it a while ago, but it is only since I have been directly suffering from its consequences that it seemed to become worthwhile to point it out, especially as more and more people seem to be suffering from it, too.

Basically, it amounts to this: if you are working for an institution, any institution really, people are expected to be serious about their jobs, and that seriousness is required because what the institution does is considered to be important.

The New Seriousness differs somewhat from the older, conventional seriousness. In this context employees are expected to be serious about their jobs because their bosses are considered to be important.

As I pointed out above, both kinds of seriousness have been around for a while; I still call the New Seriousness "New" because lately I've seen too many institutions shift from the former to the latter, and there seems to be a general trend in this respect.

Needless to say, these shifts have usually happened alongside with heavy repercussions for the employees and the customers. First of all, bosses who consider themselves important tend to replace employees who think otherwise with employees who think likewise, regardless of their qualification for the job. Second, the employees are no longer supposed to do their work so that it benefits the purpose of the institution but rather in such a way that it pleases their bosses. Ideally, these two should be identical, but the mere shift of focus along with the fact that more often than not they aren't, has in some cases led to a significant deterioration of the institution's services.

I'm not sure if placing personality before purpose is such a great thing, but it's happening everywhere and we're told that it's an economic necessity. However, the point is that if the purpose gets lost at some point, you're essentially selling bubbles of air, and at some point those bubbles will burst with a loud bang.

Posted by Horst on June 21, 2007 | # | Comments (3)

Fast Food Musings

Hereabouts, the Coca Cola corporation is currently busy marketing "Coca Cola Zero", a new product with a black label that has "zero sugar, full taste". Incidentally, they have been selling a similar product with a silver label called "Coca Cola Light" for years, which, according to the label, also contains no sugar. In fact, the list of ingredients and the nutritional table on both drinks is identical. The one discernible difference that I noticed is that the new "full taste" product tastes singificantly more watery than the old one. Otherwise it's more or less the same product in a different bottle. I wonder why they even bother.

Of course I am talking about the same company that got into the headlines a few years back for selling bottled tap water - not that they're the only ones doing this.

In other news, I was recently asked whether the old Pulp Fiction quote is really true and the Quarterpounder is really called "Royale with Cheese" in Europe. It is.

Incidentally, when McDonalds opened its first restaurants in Germany and Austria in the late 1970s, the Quarterpounder was called "Viertelpfünder", which is a pretty accurate translation of Quarterpounder into German. However, subsequent marketing research showed that the product didn't sell too well because people thought it sounded too fat and unhealthy. So, contrary to what John Travolta claims it's not because of the metric system that it was renamed, but simply to make the company's most calorie-heavy product (505kcal) sound slightly healthier.

Present-time transitory perversities such as the 881kcal "Bratl-Burger" were not an issue back then.

Posted by Horst on July 02, 2007 | # | Comments (21)

It's hot

Austria is currently succumbing to a massive heat wave. This is having interesting side-effects.

An Indian restaurant I wanted to go to yesterday was closed "because of excessive heat". You'd expect Indians to be able to deal with the heat. Possibly the owner thought that he wouldn't have any customer with temperatures like these; however, the Indian restaurant I went to instead was full of people who didn't mind spicy food in hot weather.

The big political news was apparently that the opposition parties claimed that public transport couldn't be used any longer due to the lack of air conditioning; apparently one of them (haven't found the source yet) complained that temperatures inside the subway trains was 34°C. With outside temperatures well over 37°C you'd think that 34°C should be considered pleasant.

Anyway, since there is nothing else to worry about at the moment, Austrians were polled about what they thought about the heat, and 87% thought the heat wave was basically a good thing.

More interesting, however, were two other results from the same poll: 69% said that they found sweating people disgusting, whereas 75% noticed an increased sex drive due to the heat. Combined, these two results may disclose more about people's sex habits than they wanted to reveal.

Posted by Horst on July 19, 2007 | # | Comments (1)

Cultural wrapper

wrapperThere must be something culturally specific about free newspapers in France. Every single vinyl record that I've bought from a French seller on eBay so far, regardles of where the seller is located, arrived wrapped in the classified ads section of a free local newspaper. At first I thought it was a mere coincidence, but now that about the 8th or 9th record arrived that way, I'm starting to think that it must be a cultural thing.

Come to think of it, until recently I used to wrap Christmas and birthday gifts in newspapers, but I always chose a page that contained an article with some significance for the person who received the present, but never a free newspaper and (I think) never the classified ads section. And I stopped doing that. 

Posted by Horst on July 27, 2007 | # | Comments (5)


RADIO DJ: Have a popsicle. The icebox just broke down and they're melting all over the place. You want one?

KURT: No, no, no, thanks. Listen, uh...

RADIO DJ: Have a popsicle.

I recently discovered that ice cream is a pretty vile substance. Not while it's cold; except at a few Viennese ice cream parlours who have gone from making ice cream to robbing tourists, cold ice cream is usually quite heavenly. But recent experience, in which half a box of vanilla ice cream melted due to me getting old and forgetful, I realized that ice cream becomes progressively more disgusting as it gets warmer.

I mean who would have guessed how the taste of ice cream is miraculously transformed after it has changed from a frozen to a liquid state?

Anyway that ice cream had melted, and like Wolfman Jack in the movie quoted above, I didn't want to let it go to waste and decided to eat it before it had become a pool of salmonella.

Bad idea. I know now why ice cream is generally considered to be bad for your weight and the rest of your organism. For one, it's sweeter than anything I've ever tasted. My guess is that the sugar content must be about three or four times that of Coca Cola. It's also unbelievably greasy. Like eating a block of butter, only a bit fatter.

I managed to eat only two spoonfuls before I gave up. It was, in short, some of the most disgusting stuff I had ever eaten. And having thus become aware of the real sugar and fat content of ice cream, I seriously considered quitting ice cream altogether.

For a while.

But even if my exact future relationship to ice cream hasn't been determined yet, the whole thing has taught me a lesson or two.

Posted by Horst on August 05, 2007 | # | Comments (2)

Japanese package design never ceases to amaze me

japanese wrappers They always seem to have this slightly manic quality, as if it were necessary to adapt their wrappers to the hectic lifestyle. And there's an inherent childishness, as if it were necessary to compensate for the hectic lifestyle.

That said, I must admit that I know next to nothing about the Japanese lifestyle other than the clichés from books, magazines, TV and movies. Which, if they are as truthful about Japan as they are non-truthful about Finland, are hardly to be trusted.

Finland, for example, is not stuck in the permanent 1950s as it is in Aki Kaurismäki movies. The people in Finland are friendly and very talkative. In five days in Helsinki I have not seen one man wearing a moustache in the style of Matti Pellonpää, and, something that never appears in a Finnish film and nobody, not even a tourist brochure, ever tells you or warns you about, Finnish bicyclists speed like hell on pedestrian sidewalks.

Incidentally, the things in these wrappers were artificially flavoured, heavily sugared, mildly salted, MSG-laden crispy snack rolls made of something that was most likely corn starch, but could also have been foamy cardboard or, for all I know, polyfilla. Quite tasty really, probably thanks to the MSG. I suppose the little guy with the turban on the orange wrapper is saying something like "MSG rules!", and the chicken pictured above him certainly looks as if it has overdosed on MSG. Tastewise, the snack roll in the yellow wrapper was supposed to taste like teriyaki sauce, the one in the orange wrapper was chicken curry flavour, and the one in the blue wrapper was schnitzel sauce flavour.

"Schnitzel sauce flavour?" you might ask. "But schnitzels aren't eaten with sauce," you might say. Indeed they aren't. Still, the label on the blue wrapper seems to imply that the Japanese do eat their schnitzels with sauce:

schnitzelsauce label

Anyway, I should probably try to get my hand on some Japanese schnitzel sauce and try it with schnitzel because the blue one was the tastiest of the three. The teriyaki one was vile, despite all the MSG.

Posted by Horst on October 03, 2007 | # | Comments (6)


Karl SchranzI have now reached an age at which the not just the language and musical taste, but also the behaviour and pretty much everything about young people has become a total mystery to me. A recent newspaper article has now explained a few, but unfortunately not a lot of things. It kind of explains some of the more recent youth fashion fads, including the return of the abominable mullet, but some of the more mysterious aspects of youth language appear more confusing than ever before. For example, the article states that "Bussi" ends up as "Buccä" because youths replace "z" with "c" and "a" with "ä". This does, however, not seem to be a conclusive explanation for a word with no "z"s and no "a"s in it.

At least I know now that "schranz" is not derived from former skiing legend Karl Schranz, but is really a contraction of "schreien" and "tanzen" (scream + dance). It still doesn't explain why anybody would actually listen to that kind of music, but then I suppose some things will remain mysteries forever.

Posted by Horst on October 11, 2007 | # | Comments (6)

Concession speech

tabasco plantSummer started with me attempting to grow chilies, and not just any chilies, no, I had no fewer than twelve plants of ten different chili species. Summer was spent first pollinating them with cotton swabs and then showering them every other day because suddenly one day, the aphids had arrived. They had come over night from out of nowhere, and they were all over my jalapeños. Hundreds of them. From the jalapeños they spread to all the other plants, even those I had attempted to quarantine. In the process they essentially killed my gypos, and the korals only barely survived.

At one point they were suddenly gone, all of them, and there was no trace of them for two weeks. Then they returned with a vengeance.

Basically, for most of the summer I was not growing chilies, I had an aphid farm. My tabasco plant, while growing to a bush of enormous proportions, yielded only three chilies (pictured left), but must have been thousands and thousands of aphids. The other plants weren't quite as lethargic in terms of chili production (the "Domestic Siberian Pepper" was in fact fairly productive), but still the ratio of chilies to aphids felt like 1 to 100,000. If I was an ant, I would have been delighted. As I am am not an ant, I was desperately showering my plants, trying to pull them through summer until the last of the chilies would finally turn red.

I was told that cigarette tobacco soaked in water is an aphid deterrent. I can tell you that it does not work on aphids who live on chilies. I was told that you can buy ladybug larvae in shops that are catering for gardeners, but unfortunately, all these shops offered me was poison. I was told that to get 100 aphids, you don't need 10 papa aphids and 10 mummy aphids, you need just one single aphid. I totally believe that.

I finally gave up today and threw the last chili plant away. I herewith concede that the aphids have won. Big victory for them though, ending up in a garbage can. I hope they're enjoying themselves there. For the few days before they end up in the incinerator, ha ha.

Posted by Horst on October 13, 2007 | # | Comments (7)


Wolfgang Lackerschmid playing vibraphone with Chet Baker in the backgroundWhy somebody would learn to play the vibraphone is completely beyond me. For one, in the category of non-portable instruments, it probably comes right after the grand piano and the glass harp. A vibraphone is big, and it's heavy. Second, for some reason I'm pretty convinced that it's one of the more difficult instruments to play, especially if played with two mallets per hand. As for the reputation, I don't know. I don't think that a vibraphone is universally useable in any kind of ensemble.

That said, I must say I love the sound of the vibraphone. Bobby Hutcherson is one of my heroes, one whose music I almost never get tired of. As far as I'm concerned, he put the "6" in "1960s". If I visualize a really cool room with Verner Panton chairs in them whenever I listen to Grachan Moncur's Evolution, it is mostly due to Bobby Hutcherson's vibraphone.

Granted, Hutcherson was not even remotely the first, nor the best vibraphone player. There was Lionel Hampton of course, and then there was Milt Jackson. Both were good, virtuoso even, but for some reason, even though Hampton was firmly 1940s and Jackson firmly 1950s, neither of them was able to turn his instrument as consistently into a signature sound of the decade as Hutcherson did in the early 1960s.

This is partly a reason why the vibraphone went pretty much out of fashion around 1967. The times changed, and the 1960s were no longer the 1960s. Hutcherson himself began to struggle, and while his sound remains pleasant throughout his late 1960s and 1970s recordings, the substance just doesn't seem to be there, and they sound like recordings made at the wrong time.

It took the next generation of vibraphone players, like David Friedman or Wolfgang Lackerschmid, until the early 1980s to find a new, convincing context for their instrument. On Horace Silver in Pursuit of the 27th Man (1972), Friedman sounds unbelievably cool, but also torn between a late-Milt Jackson and a late-Bobby Hutcherson style. It is mostly due to Horace Silver's refusal to acknowledge that this record was totally out of style at the time that it works so well.

What can I say? I think Verner Panton chairs are cool. I think vibraphones are cool. I have no idea why somebody willingly learns to play an instrument like that, but I'm glad they're doing it.

Posted by Horst on October 15, 2007 | # | Comments (4)

Japanese Halloween crackers?

Japanese chili crackers

Apparently they are using giant chillies instead of pumpkins.
And their website is pretty amazing too.

Posted by Horst on October 31, 2007 | # | Comments (1)

Local Sushi

local sushi

It took this photograph to realise that Vienna has its own kind of local sushi. In fact, the similarity is so striking that I am now wondering why it took me 20 years to realize it.

As it's been ages since my last blog quiz, I'm offering a prize to the first two people who are able to tell me three correct toppings (example: number 2 is mushroom on egg). Anybody who knows the name of the shop where you can buy them is not allowed to participate (meaning that googling is not an option either). Post your guesses in the comments or send me an e-mail. If nobody supplies 3 correct answers, the closest guesses will win. Closing date for entries is November 12th, 12 noon CET, at which time I will post the solution and the winners' names in the comments.

Update: The quiz has ended prematurely because somebody did not read the rules. Sorry about this.

Posted by Horst on November 05, 2007 | # | Comments (13)

Nasal injuries

Recent observations have led me to believe that something is going to happen, and I'm afraid it might involve me receiving a nasal injury of some sort. There is this Monty Python sketch where you can see numerous people with bandaged noses coming out of a department store, which is then shown to even have a "Nasal Injuries Hall", only to immediately reveal the reason why so many people hurt their noses.

Person with a bandaged nose leaving department store   Shop floor plan from Monty Python sketch

During the past week I have seen more people with bandaged noses than I have seen during the entire previous year. No, make that the previous five years. Overall, since the 26th of December, I have counted five bandaged noses in Vienna, and when I took a brief trip to Venice before New Year's Eve, I encountered four people with bandaged noses there too. That makes nine bandaged noses. I already felt a bit uneasy after the first three of them, because that would have been a lot more bandaged noses than you usually see over such a short period of time, but nine is positively terrifying.

You're probably aware how we only notice things around us when they concern us directly. Like, pregnant women tell me that they see nothing but pregnant women in the streets all the time, and when I broke my arm a few years ago, I saw arms in plastercasts everywhere. The problem is that right now, my nose isn't bandaged. At least not yet. Very obviously, something is happening somewhere that is causing nasal injuries, and unlike the Monty Python sketch, I have no idea what it is and where. I only have the very uncomfortable feeling that I might be one of the next victims.

Posted by Horst on January 03, 2008 | # | Comments (2)


I'm a sucker for anthropomorphism. Latest point to prove it: The other day, after talking about it for only about ten years or so, I finally went and ordered a Henry. In case you haven't heard about Henry yet, it's only one of the most popular vacuum cleaners in the UK, with over 6 million sold.

Part of this extraordinary success is apparently that Henry is built for heavy use and near indestructible, but I think the true secret to his success is that he is also irresistibly cute, as, by the way, are his brethren Charles, George and James.

vacuum cleaners Henry, George and James

It's also refreshing to see that the designers at Numatic Ltd aren't entirely immune to Henry's cuteness either, as their latest product demonstrates: Hetty. The accompanying text reveals the full extent to which the anthropomorph vacuum cleaners have affected designers and customers alike:

Everyone knows Henry, Europe’s favourite vacuum cleaner [...]. Henry has now got a friend ... Hetty. So you now have a choice ... Henry or Hetty ... or both! Hetty is not just a pretty face, she has all of the Henry features and specification [...]. People love Henry ... and you'll soon be loving Hetty too!

I have to admit that Hetty is indeed a cutie. I suppose the day when I place an order for a Hetty just so that my Henry doesn't feel so lonely is the day when you can officially call me an eccentric.

Posted by Horst on January 07, 2008 | # | Comments (3)

Light bulb

The other day, on the subway train, I sat opposite an old man in a gray coat who made a fairly normal impression, which is quite a remarkable occurrence these days. The only two things about him that were not entirely normal were as follows:

1. He was reading a copy of the free magazine that hangs around on subway trains in Vienna, and at oddly regular intervals lifting the magazine in front of his head, and heartily coughing into it. Since most people these days are coughing right into your face without bothering to cover their mouths, I considered this very thoughtful of him, but I was still confirmed in my resolve not to ever touch those free magazines.

2. There was a 100 watt light bulb sitting in the seat next to him. If I say "sitting" it's because the box with the bulb in it was positioned upright, and at the exact centre of the seat. Now the train was fairly full, with numerous people standing and people looking for free seats at every stop, but no one dared to talk to the man to tell him to remove his light bulb from the seat. It went like that for five or six stops. Several people were standing around the seat, suspiciously eyeing the light bulb, but no one made the slightest move to actually claim the seat. Luckily, no one sat down on it without looking either. As usual on this line, most people got off the subway at the stop below Westbahnhof station, after which it was fairly empty. As the subway started moving again, the man put back the magazine onto its hook and removed the light bulb from the seat.

Until I got off three stops later, he never even coughed once, and he held the light bulb in his hand all the time.

Posted by Horst on January 08, 2008 | # | Comments (7)

My lips are sore

My lips are all sore from the extensive training programme that my trumpet teacher put me through to compensate for several weeks of practice sloppiness that sort of managed to sneak in during and after the Christmas holidays. Basically, I didn't lose anything in my range, but my lips get tired much sooner than they should. After Saturday's trumpet lesson, my lips felt like a sloppy sponge all Sunday, and I still don't feel like there's much strength in them. Plus, they hurt.

On Saturday, I also met my trumpet teacher's dog for the first time. My trumpet teacher has a dog. It's about the most stoic dog I've ever met. It also looks like a very wise dog, in that "been there, done that, can tell you all about it, where's my dinner?" sort of way. I can imagine the dog giving good advice to younger dogs, things like "always sniff the ground that you walk on", "always bark as badly as you are going to bite", and "understanding is a three-pointed stick."

I've met a very wise dog before, a wiser dog than my trumpet teacher's dog I think. It was a Scottish border collie who largely cured my fear of dogs during our encounter. He didn't tell me anything about three-pointed sticks, but he had extremely fine karma, very much like my trumpet teacher's dog.

Both dogs were kind of old. I don't know about the border collie, but it looked very much like a very old sheepdog in retirement. My trumpet teacher's dog is fourteen. That's ninety-eight in human terms. It looked very agile for the equivalent of ninety-eight.

Of course, the whole wisdom thing can just be a side-effect of the fact that neither the border collie nor the trumpet teacher's dog talked a lot, and my trumpet teacher's dog's stoicism is probably due to the fact that it's really quite deaf. I guess that's the price a dog pays for living fourteen years with a professional trumpet player. Both dogs seemed to share an aura of being happy in a close-to-canine-enlightenment sort of way though. Dog monkish, or dog buddha-like, even.

My trumpet teacher's dog knows this trick where it will balance a dog cookie on its nose for an extended time, and upon command will throw it high up into the air and then catch and eat it.

"I was really, really profoundly bored at the time," my trumpet teacher said.

Posted by Horst on January 29, 2008 | # | Comments (3)

Will they ever learn?

Found in my guestbook over on the subway site: an anonymous message without any contact e-mail address wherein one disgruntled reader asks a question that is already answered in the FAQ and complains that his questions are never answered and that his messages in the guestbook are being deleted.

This was posted about an inch underneath where it says on the page that questions that are in the FAQ will not be answered, that I cannot answer any messages if no e-mail address is supplied, and that anonymous messages will be deleted.

I don't even want to know what actual customer support people must be going through every day. No wonder their answers are usually pointless.

Posted by Horst on February 03, 2008 | # | Comments (2)


I noticed that the people working at McDonalds seem to fall into one of two categories:

a) those who don't stay on the job very long. In fact they're there so briefly that I don't ever see them a second time, which would make there average period of employment less than about 14-20 days. Concerning the branch across the street from Vienna University, about 97% of their employees seem to fall into this category.

b) those who stay there, like, forever. At the same branch there is a woman employee who must be well over 60, and she's been working there for well over a decade.


a) What does this say about the personality types of the employees in question? Specifically, what does it say about levels of energy and endurance of 18 year-olds compared to 60 year-olds?

b) Now that the UK government has granted McDonalds the right to issue the equivalent of A-level diplomas, how successful will these programmes be given these drop-out rates, or can we expect employment periods to become longer in the future?

Posted by Horst on February 04, 2008 | # | Comments (3)

The Helper

HenryEven four weeks after he has arrived, the suction power of my Henry doesn't cease to amaze me. My old vacuum cleaner was asthmatic in comparison. By the way, if anybody knows a good (and cheap) source for the stuff that you use to fill the gaps between the panels of parquet flooring, I'd appreciate the info. Henry seems to have a particular appetite for it.

Posted by Horst on February 11, 2008 | # | Comments (1)

Other planets

A few years back, one of the Vienna branches of the Saturn consumer electronics shops received a huge shipment of audiophile 180 gram Sun Ra vinyl records. Despite their somewhat obscure appeal, they sold out within a few days.

I didn't get the exquisite coincidence at the time, and I was quite overwhelmed and confused by the massive amount of available recordings, so I didn't buy any, which is really a pity.

See, Sun Ra was this jazz musician who claimed he was an extraterrestrial from the planet Saturn. And it would be so cool if I could answer the question "Where did you get those Sun ra records?" with "From Saturn".

Posted by Horst on April 07, 2008 | # | Comments (1)

Silly hats 'n' flags

Funny enough, if you were to pass a decree that all stupid people have to wear silly hats, there would be a big uproar all over the country. However, if you hand out free flags, the stupid people will come running, collect them and mount them on their cars. The streets have become much safer lately, as every car that you'd better avoid is clearly marked with one of those Stupidity Flags. At least until the european football championship is over, but there's hope that the really stupid people will just keep the flags on their cars. Voluntarily. And if they come out of the cars, some of them even wear silly hats. Voluntarily. Who would have guessed.

Posted by Horst on June 16, 2008 | # | Comments (2)

Thank you

They installed a new coffee vending machine at the office. The new machine is essentially the same as the old one, only it doesn't throw those sticks into the coffee cups which you use to stir the coffee, and the coffee is actually drinkable now.

The one thing that struck me as the biggest difference is the message that is displayed when the coffee is ready. The old machine said "thank you thank you thank you", whereas the new machine says "see you again soon".

Come to think of it, the coffee from the old machine was gruesome enough that the enthusiastic thanks for actually buying some seemed totally adequate, and the new coffee has something oddly addictive about it...

Posted by Horst on July 08, 2008 | # | Comments (7)

The crop

After last year's chili crop was eaten by aphids, this year's looks significantly better. I'm particularly proud of my Numex Twilight plant, which not only has chilies in up to five different colours (green, purple, yellow, orange, red) at any given time:

Numex Twilight

the chilies are also hot enough to actually be used for cooking -- up to now, the species I had planted were so mild all I could do was to fill them with fresh goat cheese and eat them raw.

Apparently, Numex Twilight is a hybrid of several ornamental chilies from Thailand, and the product of some kind of experiment at the University of New Mexico (hence "Numex"). The concept of ornamental chilies was new to me, but I must say that they are indeed very pretty, so much that I really didn't want to cut any of them off the plant when I wanted to cook a vindaloo recently.

In the end, I did cut five of them off, and the vindaloo was delicious.

Posted by Horst on July 12, 2008 | # | Comments (2)

Don't ask the tram driver

If you're ever lost in Vienna and feel the need to ask someone for the way, here's who not to ask: tramway drivers. Or bus drivers, for that matter. For people who are driving around the city all the time, they are remarkably incompetent when it comes to any location that is not synonymous with the name of some station on their line.

A few weeks ago, I was at Praterstern station, waiting for somebody near the tram stop. A couple of youths approached the tram driver and I could hear them asking for Landstrasse station. Now Landstrasse is one stop away from Praterstern on the suburban rail line; it's a matter of 2 minutes to get there.

However, I could hear the tram driver tell the youths to take underground line U2 and change at Schottenring to line U4. That's two stops on line U2 and two more stops on line U4 and can't be done in under 15 minutes. Right at this point, the person I was waiting for showed up and I couldn't even intervene anymore; the youths trailed off towards the escalators and disappeared underground.

This morning I overheard an old lady asking a tram driver for "Esslinger Gasse" and mentioned some kind of tower that's supposed to be there. I could hear the tram driver send her in the opposite direction, somewhere near Schwarzenbergplatz. The problem is, there is no "Esslinger Gasse" in Vienna. There is, however, an "Esslinggasse", which is located just three stops away on this very tramway line. Esslinggasse is also right next to the Ringturm, or Ring Tower, so it's fairly safe to assume that instead of telling the lady to just get off at the third stop, the driver sent her on an odyssey to the other side of the city.

These are just two examples,but things like that happen frequently. The odd thing is, whenever I have a chance to intervene and tell the people where they really have to go, they don't believe me, they always believe the tram driver.

I wonder what happened to that old lady today. I didn't understand what exactly the tram driver told her; I just hope he didn't send her to the underground line that crosses the Danube and then to one of the buses that go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse. While Esslinggasse is right in the city centre and just about five minutes away, going to Esslinger Hauptstrasse is a one-hour trip to one of Vienna's most remote suburbs.

Now you can of course blame the woman for not getting her address right. Or maybe she wanted to go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse after all. I think they have a church with a clock tower there. But I really think that tram drivers are extremely untrustworthy when it comes to giving directions.

Posted by Horst on November 19, 2008 | # | Comments (4)

Gna gna gna

So why did they, in what must have been a last-minute decision, include the person who wasn't on the official programme, and why did they let him confuse the audience for a full fifteen minutes?

Posted by Horst on November 20, 2008 | # | Comments (2)

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