So much has happened in the last few weeks. I’ve been too busy and having too much fun to be spending all day online! But mostly, I haven’t had internet access for more than a few minutes. So now where to begin?
Izzy and I convinced Jason to drive to visit us in Prague. One morning I went out to pick something up, and when I turned around the corner onto Izzy’s street there he was. We all spent a week together in Prague, doing a little bit of sightseeing, but mostly hanging out. One night we went to a bar that was actually an old train car, called the Vagon. It was strange, but the cheapest whiskey I found in Prague, and they served fried cheese (a staple of vegetarian dining in the Czech Republic).
Then Jason and I piled into his Renault truck and headed south on the small roads we found on the map. Southern Czech Republic was covered in snow, and at one point the truck skidded off the road and got stuck in a snow bank/ditch. Luckily two cars of Czechs stopped, and with the help of a big van we were able to pull and push the truck back onto the road.
Eventually we got to Vienna. We found a place to park and crawled into the back of the truck, where there was a futon mattress and two down blankets waiting for us. In the morning we went to a gas station to brush our teeth, and then hopped on the tram into the city center. It wasn’t really any colder than Amsterdam, but at least in Amsterdam I was staying in heated places where I could take a hot shower and had lights. Also, our first day in Vienna it was raining, which eventually turned into snow. The weather made the city kind of miserable. Although it was south of Prague, Austria is Alp country, so the elevation is higher. I hadn’t thought of that.
So why did we go to Vienna? Well, Vienna was the center of the Secessionist movement, whose most famous member was Gustav Klimt. I just finished my thesis 3 months ago, so I had to go and stand in front of the paintings I had been researching for months. This was the pinnacle of the 5 years I spent studying art history. I went to the Secessionist building, which was an independent gallery space for the members. Klimt has a long frieze in the basement (it was originally in the main hall, but was meant to be only temporary) and got the see the entire thing at once, not broken up into images. And then… I went into the bathroom and washed my hair. I’m pretty sure I am one of the only people in the world who has washed their hair in the Secessionist building. Of course I froze when I stepped outside, with my wet head, but I feel like I made my mark.
After two very difficult days in Vienna, we started heading west to France. We drove on the small roads and passed through so many little villages. We saw an amazing Baroque monastery in Melk, and were afterwards completely enveloped in a crazy sudden snow storm. We drove through Linz, which was Hitler’s favorite town. We detoured south to St. Gilgen and Halstaat, which was amazingly beautiful, even under 2 feet of snow! In St. Gilgen, where we spent the night, I ate a giant Austrian cinnamon roll that had me singing and skipping for the rest of the morning. We stopped in Salzburg for pizza, home of The Sound of Music, but we couldn’t really stay. Austria was too cold. We took the Autobahn through Germany, and by the next night we rolled into Bonnat, France.
Jason’s house is actually in Le Vignaud, but while he’s working on it he is staying a friend’s second home in the nearby village of Bonnat. This house doesn’t have heating, but it does have plumbing and electricity, which is nice at night. We spend all day in Le Vignaud working, about 7 hours a day. The most work we’ve done is in the yard. There were massive piles of vines, branches, and thorns that needed to be burned. The house had been uninhabited for 50 years before Jason moved in, and the front yard has been used as a dump. We’ve pulled out tons of broken glass, plastic bottles, a wide collection of whole bottles (some match), endless rusted metal, several shoes, and at one point there was a door with wood veneer (which does not decompose) and old metal fixtures. There was a bit of detective work on that one. We also dug up a hibernating toad the other day, with bright red eyes, and watched it wake up to the spring. Despite all the trash in the yard, there are also some beautiful white wildflowers that keep the honey bees busy all day.
A week of hard work and the yard is almost finished. I’ve been using a pick axe to break up the dirt, which also pulls up the rocks and exposes more garbage to be collected. We’ve leveled out the yard, removed some old trees and nasty vines, and have done some extensive building of stone walls. The transformation is really amazing, and in March it will be time to plant the clover and wildflower seeds we got instead of grass.
But for the next week I’m going up to Paris, about 4 hours by train, to meet a friend I met in Amsterdam. I’m excited to get another change, to let my muscles relax for a week, go out at night, to sleep in a heated room, and to be clean. I might even wear mascara! I think somewhere under this dirt and the layers of the same 4 shirts I’ve been wearing for 3 months I’m a girl, but I can’t be sure anymore.