Date of Trip: August 2014
Tonight is one of those evenings when instead of doing what I have to, I will indulge in the pleasure of doing what I want: sharing with you some of my thoughts and feelings during my few days’ stay in Graz.
When was the last time I found myself riding a bicycle under pouring rain in the midst of the summer? By “pouring rain” I mean that heaven’s shower tap had been left turned on right above my head, so that by the time I reached my hotel I was soaked like after having taken a bath with my clothes on. But this was actually in more than one way a very refreshing experience. Had I been an immigrant worker going back home from a hard day’s toil with a bicycle because he has no car, I might have felt different, but to me this was such a cheerful moment, feeling happy and blessed under heaven’s abundance and bounty. So as we know, experiences are what they are, what makes them enjoyable or not is most of the time our mindset.
It also gave me a chance to sing my head off under Heaven’s natural symphonic orchestra, while pedaling in the deserted streets, enjoying my newly found voice – the one I could hear for a long time with my inner ears, that my friends had to take my word for its existence as they never witnessed it first hand – or first ear if I may say. Because I forgot to tell you, I came to Graz for a singing workshop that, although extenuating was actually very helpful!
So I came to Graz, I know, it’s Austria.
As a teenager who grew up in Paris and stopped learning German in high school, after having attended in Kohln the trial of three Nazis who had orchestrated the deportation of over one hundred thousand French Jews, coming to Austria did arise some dark sensations in my body and soul. 70 years later, even if most of the victims and perpetrators are not alive anymore, the holocaust damages are far from being over. Even though from the outside they look like everyone else, most children of holocaust survivors did not grow up in regular families and as a result of it they did not become regular parents. What about the second and third generation of Nazis. What kind of people did they grow to be? Do they still carry the hateful believes of their forefathers or do they feel shame and remorse?
Obviously I could never know the answers to those troubling questions but I decided that if I went to Austria, I should go “tabula rasa”, like a blank slate, with an open heart and no prejudices, otherwise I’d better find myself a singing workshop at home!
From a different angle, I must say that after having come across the biased and incriminating way in which Israel is portrayed in the news especially in Europe, I would have expected people to frown at me when hearing I came from Israel. But on the contrary, they were very friendly and did not look at me as a bi-ped monster. I felt such a relief as it saved me hours of explaining and substantiating why we are not what the manipulating news report us to be. I was even surprised to hear that some of the people I met had actually even visited or volunteered in Israel and had kept a very positive memory of their visit. Did they say the truth or just pretended like their history revealed they are good at, I’ll never know…
In any case, I found Graz to be a very pleasant town with the advantages of modern urbanism, without giving up the laid-back and peaceful way of life that the rural towns usually provide.
• The population
By and large, I have found the residents of Graz to be very nice and helpful and to have that kind of innocence that many of us have lost to the challenges of modern life. It is very funny to see how kindly they greet you when you walk into a store. They will always acknowledge your presence with a good afternoon greeting and a sweet smile. When you walk out, even if you did not buy anything, they will say good bye to you with such a great smile and a kind voice, that one could think you had bought half of their store!
One thing that can not go unnoticed is that in Graz, people are very clean. You can see it from their streets to their bathrooms and it is very pleasant.
One thing that struck me is that the city is free of the massive African and Magrehbian immigration that characterizes most European cities. I did meet a few immigrants from Iran, Ethiopia and Nigeria, but they had been there for many years and besides a difference in look and accent, they had more or less the same attitude and manners as the indigenous population.
In a general way, I found Grazers to be calm and serene. Spouses spoke quietly with one another, parents spoke patiently with their children. I wondered what was the connection between their calmness and cell phones which I barely saw. I mean are they calmer because they don’t use their cell phones or perhaps it is the other way around: because they are calm and centered, they don’t become cell phone addicted as we are!
I must say that vehicles were quiet as well. I don’t know what Grazer horns sound like!
And then I truly wondered: How is it to live in a city where everything is so perfect? Doesn’t it get boring sometimes? Don’t they miss excitement and action? Are their houses painted in all those colors in order to add color to their lives or again, is it because they are happy and cheerful that they paint their houses in so many colors?
In Israel everything is louder, the laughter, the crying, the talking. Everything is more tensed, and more intense. But everything is more lively too in a way. I doubt we would see Breslavers dancing on the roof of a van in the heart of the traffic like near the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, or shanty people dancing with strangers on the streets like on the Tel Aviv beach promenade, or see a mass “water fight” on the main square of the city with thousands of participants!!! In Israel, people dare go crazy, and it’s fun! But sometimes, it can be annoying too!
My visit in Graz granted me the “empiric” proof that I am not a paranoiac. In other words, it is THEM and NOT me! I am talking about Israeli men. In Graz, when I talked to men, they did not scan me from tip to toes. What a pleasure it was to feel a full-fledged human being and not just a female. I must admit that I don’t really know what the reason is behind it. As you could have guessed, I have already thought of a few possibilities: perhaps I am simply not the type of look that does it to them – I’m not really in the skinny, tall, blonde range. Or perhaps they are just more polite, or perhaps they are less transparent, or repress more their impulses or they are better actors, or they might have less testosterone, or they are more connected to their higher self… I have no idea, and the truth is that I don’t care. It just felt good. What I did notice is that the few immigrants I came across in Austria did make me feel like many Israeli men. So now I finally nailed it: it is a Middle Eastern thing!