Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Confessions of a disgruntled personal shopper

Do you perhaps need an original Christmas present for your step-twin twice removed or your third cousin-in-law and you don't have a clue what to get them? Well, don't fret, just ask me and I'll add it on to my long list of "presents to organise on behalf of others". Not.

My dear relatives are only too aware of my reputation as shopaholic/my conveniently long lunch-breaks and I've in the past been able to impress them by recommending shops for every imaginable need. I once famously recommended a shop selling wigs and hairpieces to my great-aunt. I don't know why I even noticed that shop in the first place because I thankfully don't need its products myself.

Don't get me wrong, I love selecting presents for my beloved ones as much – if not more - as I enjoy treating myself erm...occasionally and I don't mind running errands for elderly relatives who live in rural areas but the culmination of people ringing to ask me if I could get a present for other members of the clan or Turkish Delight because "you always have such great ideas and you know where to get things", expecting the full retailtherapist-package (me purchasing, wrapping and often also delivering the present to the recipient) can get a tiny little bit annoying.
In some cases, it's very difficult indeed to choose a suitable present for somebody and once I've had a brainwave I am somewhat reluctant to "give away" my brilliant idea by buying the thing on behalf of somebody else. Why don't they pick their own brains for a change? To be fair, my Mum gets to do her share of inter-familial present-planning too and she's therefore more or less the only member of my family who doesn't tap me for ideas.

With my parents both being artists, creative, self-made pressies have always ranked highest but given Dad's serious dislike of any shops which are not of the DIY-store kind (my shopaholic-genes are definitely not from the paternal side of the family) he always expects me to organise the shop-bought part of his presents for Mum. Being the clever woman she is, she of course always cops on to that and is not amused so in the weeks before Christmas or my mother's birthday I know I can expect both a plea by Dad to conjure up some nice things for Mum on his behalf and a briefing by her to please refrain from doing so as she gets really annoyed at him for not making more of an effort himself.

Let me tell you, being a personal shopper can be a very tricky task. And a thankless one, too.
Lunch-break purchases: Another visit to the Body Shop (presents this time. Well and a crucially important new eyshadow brush for myself) as today they offer a 20% reduction to store-card-holders, followed by a pit-stop at Haas&Haas, a Viennese institution, to buy some more of my new favourite tea: Rooibos with little chunks of dried pears. En route back to the office I popped into posh Meinl am Graben to buy some seed-free raspberry jam for my baking marathon tomorrow afternoon before stopping at a stationery shop to buy a 2006-refill for my Filofax and 2 nice (and over-priced) packs of christmassy napkins. Now I can finally have a calendar where to circle August 18, 2006 in red ink!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wittgenstein has a point

Much as I love experimenting in my kitchen and try to avoid serving the same thing twice to my dinner guests, I am on a staple diet where lunch (Monday to Friday) is concerned. Among several other food-addictions, I am absolutely addicted to rucola, or rocket salad. Every day, I bring a sandwich into work which closely resembles the one on the photo and consists of a (usually pumpkin seed) roll with a bit of butter, a generous layer of rucola, cheese (at the moment I'm in my pecorino dolce phase) and occasionally also prosciutto. I really look forward to eating it every day.

I don't make my own sandwiches in order to save money (you should know me better by now!) but because most shop-bought ones a) only contain one or two token leaves of rocket if at all and b) always have some nasty ingredient which I don't like and would have to remove. Needless to say, it doesn't really make sense to pay for stuff have of which you bin. I also don't mind spending 5 minutes on sandwich-preparation in the morning at all as I'd probably have to spend twice the amount of time queuing for a mediocre ready-made sandwich.

By the way, I don't waste my 75-minute lunch-break on the mundane task of eating but use it for shopping or important errands instead, eating at my desk after the lunch-break proper is over. Working in the city center does have certain advantages as does sitting in a room which is not on the same floor as your boss's. I only interrupt my rucola-diet when I've either run out of the main ingredient (i.e. don't want to buy the limp pre-rinsed leaves the supermarkets have to offer) or have arranged to meet someone for an actual lunch-date which involves eating at a restaurant.
I actually toyed with the idea of calling this blog "rucola" only to discover that the name had already been snatched away by an Italian lady. If I weren't such a nice person to whom bitching is an entirely alien concept, I might feel inclined to suggest that that blog is a bit of a waste of space in view of the fact that it boast one solitary post, dated November 25, 2001 which consists of one sentence repeated ad infinitum...

Be that as it may, pre-rucola days, when we had other, far more unhealthy culinary routines that accounted for an approximate 10kg weight-gain by the end of our ERASMUS-year, Amica liked to quote Wittgenstein who allegedly said that he didn't mind what he ate as long as it was the same thing every day. I have not been able to find written proof of this quotation, but I like it just the same...
Lunch-break purchases: I picked up the Christmas cards with my photos that I had ordered last week and am very pleased indeed both with the result and the price (€11,60 for 40 cards with envelopes!). Further acquisitions: 2 pairs of guest slippers and chocolate.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Complimentary philosophy

It's a universally acknowledged fact that Vienna's public transport is a breeding ground for all kinds of weirdos. I'm not talking about the olfactory challenging ones (in summer, you wonder if deodorants have been abolished for good) nor the fact that some male passengers prefer to expose themselves in subway carriages or find the close proximity of strangers very sexually stimulating. And I mean VERY. No, I'm talking about the bizarre conversations you can't help overhear unless you've got earphones on. Personally, I prefer being just an eavesdropper to being actually engaged in conversation myself although I do seem to have "TALK.TO.ME!" written on my forehead in fluorescent letters.

I once listened to 2 old ladies having an animated discussion on a bus (the 66A, for the record). After one was done complaining about her husband, the other said, "I feel for you, they really can be a nuisance. You know what, I'm so glad I no longer have to stay up, worrying myself sick wondering when mine'll come back from the pub. Nooo, I know where he is all right. Tucked away safe and sound in Zentralfriedhof where I can visit him every weekend if I want to."

Last week, on the bus (48A) on my way to work, a rather battered-looking man suddenly addressed the two students (?) sitting next to him: "Young gentlemen, mind if I ask you something? What would be an intelligent answer to a question not asked?" Unfortunately, I couldn't hear what they replied but apparently they humoured him because when they got off at the next stop, Mr. Philosopher just continued talking to himself along the lines of "Monsieur le Président, do you realise this? Can you perhaps digitalise this?"

If I hadn't had the privilege of listening to similarly kafkaesque conversations on a variety of busses, trams and subway lines in Vienna, I might have arrived at the conclusion that the density of very peculiar passengers on the 48A is related to the fact that said bus originates at Baumgartner Höhe psychiatric hospital.

Be that as it may, an annual ticket for the capital's public transport might not come cheap at € 409 but you certainly get free entertainment with it.
Lunch-break purchase: I stocked up on the Body Shop's "White Musk" extra rich body cream which I love and look forward to slapping on post-shower every morning. Practical side-effect of being lusciously scented all over - you can furtively sniff your wrists or arms if a particularly smelly bus-passenger (see above) takes your breath away and I mean NOT in a knight-in-shining-armour-way.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Finishing touches

Today's the first Advent Sunday. Like every year, I bought a cheap decorated wreath with the intention to revamp it a bit. This is the Advent wreath pre retailtherapist-makeover: And this is what it looks like now:

Yeah, right, I admit it's kitschy. But kitschy in a nice way. Kitsch is mandatory at Christmas time after all.

Sunday-purchases: With my favourite cousin in tow, Turkish Delight and I visited the "Julbasar" (Christmas market) organised by the Swedish church in Vienna. I bought some Swedish chocolate bars and a little shot glass decorated with an elk for a friend who collects them. Elks of all sizes, not shot glasses.

Speaking of Advent wreaths - there was also a traditional Lucia-procession with the girl representing St. Lucia wearing a kind of Advent-wreath-crown (with 5 candles) on her head. We hoped for her that she didn't get burnt by hot wax dripping onto her blonde locks...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

From St. Petersburg to Chickmaglur

Last night after seeing Les Poupées Russes for the second time, my friend and I checked out the latest addition to Vienna's café scene, "Coffee Day", the first European branch of what is apparently India's answer to Starbucks. I had read that the coffee beans they use were grown in a place called Chickmaglur and decided I had to try the mysterious "chick-coffee".
The decor looked very Autogrill motorway restaurant meets frequent-flyer airport lounge. The staff (bringing drinks to your table unlike at Starbucks or Coffeeshop Company) were of the headless-chicken variety and seemed to serve a merely decorative function and the menu didn't actually offer that great a selection of coffee. I chose a "Café Caramello" which was predictably sweet, but ok and cheaper than Starbucks-coffee and my friend tried one of three teas on the list, a rather bland "Indian chai" which came in a tea-bag. We were there shortly before Midnight so none of the handful of patrons was actually eating anything but it seemed that there was quite a big selection of (self-service?) dishes on display. The selection of pastries actually looked very nice and freshly baked.
The advantage Coffee Day might have over Starbucks (which in Vienna is mainly frequented by tourists and mothers with toddlers who don't want to expose their kids to the opaque nicotine fumes you'd otherwise find in Viennese cafés) might be that there's also a cigar-lounge and screens for live-broadcasting of sports events.
If you - like me - expected some Indian touch in furnishings or menu, don't go. If you want American-stlye flavoured coffee for less than you'd pay at Starbucks where you have to queue for it, do give it a try.
Purchases: Only groceries, but I might use the space to make your mouth water instead:
Menu for tonight's dinner chez retailtherapist and Turkish Delight:
Starter: Salad of warm pumpkin with rucola, prosciutto and pecorino
Main course: slow-roasted (with soy-sauce, rice wine, star-anise, cinnamon bark, ginger, Asian mushrooms etc.) pork served with vegetables (baked carrots, fennel and stem cabbage with dates and cranberries) and basmati rice.
Dessert: self-made lime-coconut ice-cream.
Not bad, eh? Better return to the kitchen to get going now.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Tonight, my Italian friend (= l'Italiana) who lives in London was supposed to visit me. I'd been looking forward to a weekend with her for months and now she can't make it. She had to cancel because of a business trip from which she will return too late to catch the plane to Bratislava. Comfort to the career-challenged: We might have a Mickey Mouse job and earn peanuts but at least there's no danger of short-notice trips to mess up our weekend plans...

Although I love having visitors in general, l'Italiana is special. I met her 12 years ago when we were both studying at UCD. She was in the same tutorial as the other Erasmus-student from Vienna and that's how we met. It was basically love at first sight. Here, I have to add, that I either instantly like someone or decide there's something suspicious or annoying about them only to then change my mind and make them my best friends. Or my boyfriend, even. Some of my friends whom I used to tell about "this weird Turkish guy" love to remind me of my rash judgements. Weird guy and I have been together for more than 10 years now. It was the same in the case of the second Austrian girl who had a scholarship for Dublin. I wasn't particularly thrilled when it turned out I'd have to spend my year abroad more or less together with her. I only knew her from sight and in fact had no desire to get to know her better as I'd already labelled her "annoying, domineering, talks incessantly". Exactly, sounds just like ME which is probably why I didn't take to her at the beginning. Opposites attract, similarities don't. In the course of our year abroad, I discovered that she was the most wonderful and loyal friend you could wish for. She still is and therefore will be named "Amica" as she is the quintessential good (best!) friend, and also because her real name also sounds Latin/Italian.

Back to l'Italiana. While Amica and I were only too eager to adapt to the Irish student-lifestyle and look (Doc Marten boots, long skirts and old jumpers were obligatory anno 1993 ) and were in a year-long competition over who got more compliments for her recently acquired "Oirish" accent, l'Italiana was the real thing. She was not just in Dublin for a year, she had moved there aged 18 ("because I was a U2-fan") and decided to study English and German at UCD. Unlike us, who lived on campus with Irish flatmates (and loved it), l'Italiana resided downtown in a a tiny apartment in an elegant house complete with Georgian door with another Italian girl. The four of us used to spend lazy Sunday afternoons, hopping from one café (aaaah, Bewleys which has long since closed all its cafés in Dublin) to another, stopping at our favourite bookstores on Dawson Street (open on Sunday! Revolutionary concept for Austrians) to browse for ages and buy at least 3 books each. We all passionately loved Dublin and everything Irish but it was interesting to find out that we found the same intrinsically Irish traits very odd indeed (such as not rinsing your dishes but leaving them to dry with the washing-up-liquid-bubbles still on them. Result: sticky plates, never mind ingesting all those chemicals) and tended to hide our shopping from our Irish friends (this was pre-celtic tiger and Irish students DID.NOT.SPEND.MONEY.ON.ANYTHING) who could not get over the fact that we seriously preferred buying books to borrowing them from the college library.
L'Italiana is one of those charismatic people whom you could listen to for hours on end. Her English is perfect, her accent British after having lived in London for years now but her intonation remains Italian so whenever she says something like "Girls, what do you want to do now?", what I hear is "Ragazze, che facciamo?".

L'Italiana's name begins with the same 2 syllables as mine. Our hair is the same colour (an amber-ish brunette/dark blonde), our birthdays are on the same day. She's a year older than me, though and therefore my "elder twin sister". She's also at least ten times prettier than me, and I could never understand why she remained single throughout her undergraduate years. She then fell in love with an American from her MA course. I never met the guy but they were together for several years and she almost ended up marrying him but then decided she could not spend the rest of her life together with someone who – among other things – was obsessed with being politically correct and cringed when she committed the mortal sin of ordering"black coffee". That's my girl!

She's also much more brave and spontaneous than me. A couple of years ago, she quit her well-paid job to go on a year-long trip to Asia with a friend. She returned to London, realised she was homesick for Thailand, moved to a small Thai island to rent a bar and run it successfully for half a year or so. It was of course love which ruined her island paradise and so she's back in London.

Like all Italians I know, she's a useless correspondent, but whenever we meet, no matter how many years we haven't seen each other, it's just like old times. I visited her in London this May for a magic girly weekend of shopping, exhibition visits, after-shopping mojitos and a relaxed Sunday lunch at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurant (for the record, we did not have a reservation and it was moderately priced by London standards).

I'd so been looking forward to a wintery re-enactment (hot chocolate instead of mojitos) this weekend and had mentally devised a list of places to go and things to do. Well, I suppose Vienna's nice in spring, too. Or summer.

Lunch-break-purchases: Ski goggles from Tchibo, paper napkins in the perfect shade of pink to match the table-cloth I intend to use for tomorrow's dinner party (don't laugh, these things are of vital importance), ingredients for the dishes I will conjure up tomorrow night.

TD's at it with a vengeance

Short commercial break:
I was aware of penis envy (NOT from first hand experience, no pun intended), but I did not know that "blog envy" existed as well. I should probably have foreseen it anyway: Turkish Delight got himself a blog last night! Provided you know Turkish, you might want to pop over to
his site. He'd have preferred "Turkish Delight" as blog-title but unfortunately it was already taken. In case you're wondering what the headline of the first (Bana peynirlerimi geri verin!!!) of today's 3 (and counting) posts means, it translates to "Give me back my cheese!!!".
Myself, I'm experiencing a bad case of comment envy here! TD seems to have his little fan-club already. Yoo-hoo, anybody out there? Do I have to start blogging in Turkish? Nope, that would definitely deter the 1 or 2 readers I have so far managed to lure here.
End of commercial break. "Proper" post to follow later.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Higher Calling

From my living-room windows I can see the that sign. When the shop opened two years ago, Turkish Delight actually went in to point out the superfluous apostrophe. He knew the proprietor after all, the former waiter at his favourite pizza place a few metres up the road. However, "il patrone" did not seem to mind and blamed the printers for having messed up. Yeah, right.
The "gratuitous-apostrophe-phenomenon" is a severe problem in the German-speaking world and there are several websites devoted to it, such as this one. It definitely is one of my grammatical pet-hates. As Austrians (and Germans) somehow associate apostrophes with being "English" which of course equals cool, they very nonchalantly sprinkle their words with as many apostrophes as they can, no matter if the hapless orthographic victims are German, or English as in this case.
Apart from the interesting plural, I find the name of the shop very funny in its own right. I mean, "United Calling" sounds very pompous and the odd pairing of "calling" and "flowers" is rather unusual. The shop is in fact one among zillions of call-shops/internet cafés offering competitive (long-distance) phone-rates, a vending machine for soft drinks and a couple of computers with internet access. The floral part is probably a tribute to the fact that a flower shop used to be on the premises until the former proprietor retired (much to my regret). Hence, "United Calling with Flower's" caters to home-sick immigrants who don't want to be ripped off by Telekom Austria or who don't own a computer with internet access as well as to people who fancy rather sad-looking (I've been there) flowers and potted plants.
When we first spotted the sign, my friend P. (who until recently lived on the same street) and I went into false-apostrophe-overdrive and exchanged e-mails making up bizarre shop names all day long. It sounds better and even more pompous in German, by the way: "Vereinigtes Telefonieren mit Blume'n". Love it.
I have the suspicion that both name and logo are an allusion to "United Colours of Benetton", which is odd as I daresay the Italian clothes imperium has somewhat lost in coolness since the 1990s. But who knows, it might still be the dernier crie in the call-shop-scene.
Or, possibly, the proprietor wanted to lure soccer-mad youngsters to the premises, suggesting that (Manchester) United was calling them with flowers? No, make that flower's.
Purchase(s): None so far and I probably will be good today as I'm planning to restrict my luch-break-roamings to an excursion to the nearest Hofer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Single? Desperate? Move to Alston!

In the Marie Claire I bought the other day I came across an article on "the Alston Boys" who apparently have become quite a media phenomenon in the U.K. since they went public with their dating dilemma. In Alston, their native Cumbrian village , there's a ratio of ten men to one woman which is not so good if you're a testosterone-driven villager. In order to alert women all over the British Isles (and possibly beyond) of their sexual draught, a group of guys founded the "Alston Moor Re-Generation Society". Interested ladies with romantic preconceptions of life in rural England please proceed to their website. Judging from the hopefuls' photos in MC, I could just about restrain myself, but then that depends on your tastes and the exact level of desperation, doesn't it?
Speaking of magazines - although the U.S. versions of my favourite glossy mags are actually cheaper here, I only ever buy the U.K. editions. Their American "sisters" are not only much thinner (as you would imagine) but infinitely more boring, the majority of articles being about how to get a Southern gentleman or real-estate tycoon to propose to you. This is also reflected in the ads, 50% of which are for diamond rings (of the kind Elizabeth Taylor would favour) and the rest for dental treatments. In fact, when I last had the chance to leaf through U.S. women's glossies, I saw the same advertisement for veneers by this company in all of them, shouting (I'm not making this up): "teeth. the ultimate accessory". This cracked me up and sent my wild imagination into overdrive:
Barbie: Darling, have you seen my veneered-incisor-necklace? I can't seem to find it?
Ken: Sorry, honey, I haven't, but why don't you just wear that gorgeous bleached-molar-brooch I gave you last Christmas?
Purchase(s): Because of severe Salt & Vinegar crisps withdrawal symptoms (more about my addiction another time) I went to the British "supermarket" earlier today, buying much more than crisps, predictably enough. En route back to the office I made a detour to an Asian shop to stock up on equally addictive wasabi-coated dried green peas by this company. Official excuse for getting a bit carried away on the snacks-front: I have dinner-guests this Saturday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Creature of habit

Bob Geldof and his Boomtown Rats (and in fact 99.9% of the workforce) might have a problem with Mondays, but personally, I really like them. Monday NIGHTS, that is. Every Monday for the last 3 years or so, I've been meeting my friend at 18:45 on the dot in order to dip our nubile bodies into the murky waters of Stadthallenbad. We call it "therapeutic swimming". Others might feel inclined to show off their crawl or butterfly stroke in the fast lane of this olympic-sized pool, sporting sexy Speedos and not-so-sexy goggles, WE like to keep to lane 8 from which both athletes and kids are banned. Imagine 2 women, a very skinny peroxide blonde (my friend) and a creature with head-to-toe cellulite (yours truly), swimming alongside each other, talking incessantly. Mind you, we make a point of doing 20 lengths which amounts to one impressive kilometre. Apart from this rather, erm, moderate physical exercise, we enjoy the communicative aspect of the whole experience. I've known my friend – let's call her the Mermaid because of our aquatic jour-fixe – since I was 10 because we went to school together. She used to be a real tomboy but has long since morphed into the vainest person I know.

Neither of us would probably put 2005 on our personal hit-lists of "greatest years ever" but at least we've established the fact that after years of only very occasional use our lachrymal glands work just fine. All through spring and summer it was more or less a weekly contest of who feels worse and is entitled to more self-pity. The Mermaid eventually decided to be proactive and began a more conventional therapy while I, predictably enough, stuck to the one that comes with "retail" in front of it. As a result, we've both reverted back to our old cynical selves.

Our weekly swim-date is not just one big moanathon, however, it's also a good opportunity to catch up with the more pleasant events in each other's lives and to bitch about...basically everyone and give nick-names to our co-swimmers. While almost every woman I know has a whole set of body-issues, men are often only too confident about their sagging physiques. I mean, there's old guys with boobs bigger than your average Hollywood starlet and yet they strut around as if they were shortlisted for Mr. Universe. Among the regulars at the pool are "the Sumo", "ZZTop", "Meatloaf" and lots of other veeery sexy individuals. Inexplicably, some people are never actually seen IN the pool but prefer to watch the swimmers from the vantage-point of pool-side deck chairs. Personally, I get athlete's foot and a mean yeast infection from just looking at those chairs but each to their own.

When we're done swim-bitching or bitch-swimming, have showered, blow-dried our tresses and slipped back into our civvies, we go back to my place, conveniently located a mere 5-minute walk away. There, we eat a light and healthy dinner before moving on to a not-so-light dessert, crisps and chocolate. It's a ritual, see. We used to go swimming on Tuesdays, when Sex and the City was on but long ago switched to Mondays to be able to watch Desperate Housewives (I know, I know, we're SO predictable) together.
There are few people, even among my closest friends, in whose company I feel comfortable enough to slump on the sofa next to them with my feet on their lap. The Mermaid is practically family and has in the past sat on our living-room-floor in her undies (not that Turkish Delight minded, of course), having her legs waxed by me.
Today, she's flying to the Philippines for 2 weeks of scuba-diving which means that I have to face 2 Mondays of swimming alone. What's more, Season 2 of DH won't be shown here until next spring (it's a disgrace but thankfully we've got a broadband connection for erm...reading the episode guides, what did you think?). Mondays are just not the same without the Mermaid and the girls from Wisteria Lane.

Purchase(s): In my lunch-break I went to COSMOS to order Christmas cards with photos I made. They have a special offer till the end of this week at 29 cents/card. With envelope! I've worked out that it's actually cheaper than wasting the cartridges of my printer at home. I also popped into DM to grab another Nicky Clarke supershine conditioner. I don't usually buy expensive hair styling products at all but was very impressed by the results of this one. Plus it wasn't actually expensive as DM are apparently discontinuing Nicky Clarke products and therefore selling them for half the original price while stocks last. I also bought potash (that's potassium carbonate for you and me) for baking.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I had no idea that until now you needed to be registered with blogger in order to be allowed to comment here. Well, I told you I was technically challenged. I've changed the settings now anyway. Hmmm...will I try to convince myself that this was the reason why I've got no feedback so far or just face the brutal truth, that nobody has stumbled over this site, apart from those few that I subtly nudged towards it by sending them the link? Ahem.

Freeze when you're winning

It's 8 a.m. on Saturday when Turkish Delight and I meet B. near Burgtheater where ticket sales for the Robbie Williams concert on August 18, 2006 will commence at 09:30. There's been quite a media-hype about it and according to a radio station one demented lady has even been queuing since Friday morning (!). With subzero temperatures at night I would not do that even if someone promised me 10 tickets for free. And a night with Robbie. Then again...
Fast forward. By the time we had our tickets it was 11:15 and I was positively frozen solid despite multiple layers of "sensible" clothing. When we arrived, a tv ad for Raiffeisen bank starring national ski-hero Hermann Meier was playing. "Ooooh, LOVE this ad, it's so funny", we all exclaimed. After the 10th or so re-run within 3-odd hours, I was tempted to throw a big, spiky object each at the screen and the speakers. We all officially HATE that ad now. Inbetween ads by the big sponsors they showed RW's Knebworth gig.
After one hour or so, my feet felt like blocks of ice. In fact, the whole experience reminded me of the less than comfy experience of lining up for some alpine chair lift minus the bulky ski boots. Admittedly, you don't get half as many freebies on the pistes. An impressive collection of things was being distributed with the woollen caps being the most useful items.
I got several each of all of the above. If the condoms were intended for immediate use (might have been a good way to warm up a bit but then the scenario was somewhat lacking in privacy for my taste) or post-concert (with Robbie, dream on), I have no idea.
Interestingly, we (aged 32, 33 and 34 respectively) were among the younger crowd. Unless the more geriatric queuers thought the event was in honour of some one-off performance at Burgtheater starring their thespian hero the only other explanation could be that kids (most schools have 6-day-weeks here) were at school and had got their housewife-Mums to queue (and pay!) for their tickets. I'd also expected the male/female ratio to be less balanced. When we left victoriously, there was still quite an impressive crowd of hopefuls:
Tickets were being sold at the Toblerone-esque stalls behind the white partition wall.

Afterwards, the three of us were in desperate need of defrosting (never mind emptying our bladders) and made a beeline for my favourite café for a hot drink and leasurely perusal of the gossip mags. Who cares if your toes feel like icicles when you can hold the precious tickets in your hand nine months (mental note: don't do anything stupid such as getting pregnant in the meantime. Oh! Now I understand why they were giving out condoms!) before the actual event.
When we got home Turkish Delight read online that there was going to be a second concert the day after ours. I later heard the same thing on TV about an extra concert in Hamburg. For some reason I can vividly imagine the Robster and his managment sitting in front of some nice fireplace, laughing their heads off about all the idiots who freeze their derrières off all over Europe, oblivious of there being plenty more tickets than they thought. Perhaps they just wanted to ruin the chances of those who bulk-bought in order to sell tickets on E-Bay. Ah well, he's forgiven and "my" concert's sold out already, never mind about the second one.
The venue is Ernst Happel Stadium, an open-air stadium where I have seen people as illustrious as David Bowie or R.E.M. I also saw Robbie W. there in 2004 and he's definitely the only performer for whose show I'd freeze my ample behind off any time. Nine months to go, counting the days.

Purchases: None so far today but then that's alright given the time and the fact that I bought 4 tickets at €78 each on Sat. In my lunch-break, I will go to Morawa to find out whether the December issue of BBC'S Good Food Magazine is worth buying.
P.S.: Have just returned from my lunch-break. Yep, did indeed buy Good Food mag. Plus the new UK edition of Marie Claire, my favourite glossy mag. Aaaaaand, I bought something dead cool. I'd seen this pictured in Brigitte magazine which in fact co-developed this gadget. I so wanted/needed to have it. When I couldn't find any shop which stocked it in Austria I almost ordered it online from the German manufacturer but then the not-so-customer-friendly delivery charges made me think again. Last night, as I walked down Wollzeile en route to the cinema I saw it in the window of a shop. Eureka! For those who don't know any German: it's a little kit of letters and numbers with which you can customise your biscuits. Cool, eh?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Smells like mean spirit

Last night, winter was officially being opened at MQ, one of my favourite haunts. When my better half - let's call him Turkish Delight, because that's what he is, after all. Turkish (all the time) and a delight to be with (most of the time) - and I finally made it there, the fashion show was already over and the Mariachi band had stopped playing. We arrived right on time for the light-show, though. The open-air-furniture that served as more or less comfortable beds/seats in the summer had been transformed into an ice-palace. Or so the newsletter claimed. Be that as it may, nice wintery images were being projected onto the sleek surface:
We didn't stay long as it was freezing and I wasn't in the mood for queuing for a mug of steaming MQ-punch or mulled wine. The mugs looked very cool, though. At most Chistkindlmärkte (Christmas markets), you pay a deposit (usually €2) for the mug. When you return it to the stall, you get back your cash. If you like the mug you take it home with you instead. Some markets change the designs of their mugs every year, making them collectables among the Christkindlmarkt-aficionados. Only the fact that I already have a veritable mug-collection at home has so far prevented me from hoarding some from Christmas markets, too (great bargain, 2 Euros only!). By the way, one of my favourite mugs (a present from FCN) shows a woman laden down with shopping bags and bears the inscription "Too many shops, too little time". SO me! Erm, I'm digressing...

Anyway, on the way home we found out that the Spittelberg Christkindlmarkt was already open. It is one of Vienna's most popular Christmas markets and generally considered to be very "authentic" and less commercialised than the others. Admittedly, it's not nearly as brutal as the biggest of them all, but personally, I prefer the one in front of Schönbrunn palace or the one on the AAKH university campus. To be completely honest, though, I'm not that big a fan of any of them unlike the rest of Vienna's inhabitants who succumb to some sort of punch-drunk Christkindlmarkt-fever at this time of the year. Forget about meeting somebody "for a coffee" or a beer, from mid-November till the end of the year, it HAS to be for a mulled wine or punch. To make people feel less guilty about sometimes getting pissed in their lunch-breaks already (apart from the big markets proper, solitary Punsch or Glühwein stalls can be found all over the city centre), lots of stalls have taken to selling their concoctions FOR CHARITY. This means that you can indulge in some charitable drinking for a variety of good causes. The more you drink, the greater the donation. I don't want to belittle the efforts of volunteers standing in the cold for hours on end, nor deny that "every little helps" but somehow feeling magnanimous about this drinking-for-a-good-cause is akin to buying fashionable rubber-bands-for-charity instead of donating a more substantial amount of money. No?
Charitable or not, I don't actually like the taste of either mulled wine or punch which in most cases is sickeningly sweet to mask the cheap wine or spirits. Last night, I needed to remind myself of that again when I tried orange-and-ginger (I LOVE ginger) punch. Well, at least it was nice and hot.
The mug was nothing to write home about, obviously and I duly claimed my deposit back.

Oh, and this is my new €14,90 jacket. Like?

Tomorrow morning, however, I will be wearing my trusty old down-coat to brave the queues for Robbie Williams tickets (for a concert in August '06). If I don't freeze to death or am suffocated by a mob of hysterical prepubescent girls, more about that on Monday. Stay tuned.
Purchase(s): A glossy mag, a pair of tights and 2 pairs of (B-quality, hence cheap, hence no bad conscience) Burlington socks.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fighting the inner goldfish – book review #1

I have devoured books pretty much since I learnt how to read. When I was in primary school I finished books so quickly my parents actually got suspicious and asked me for synopses before they would fork out the money required to purchase the next Enid Blyton or Astrid Lindgren on my list. Whenever we were holidaying abroad, I would lie comfortably stretched out on the back seat (there are certain advantages to being an only child) of the family car, working through the contents of my little book-suitcase, occasionally looking out of the window and producing enthusiastic grunts if my parents pointed out some architectural highlight of the South of France to their philistine daughter whose thoughts were elsewhere. At some English boarding school or Swedish village, most likely.

The downside of reading a lot is that – at least if you are cursed with goldfish memory like I am – you might be totally immersed in a book and feel very passionately about it but if asked a mere week after you finished it what it was about, your comments tend to be of the rather monosyllabic kind. A year later, it's very likely that I can't even remember having read the book in the first place. It gets worse: I've been known to buy books I already owned AND had in fact read, simply because the cover was different from the copy gathering dust in my book-shelf. In order to at least be able to recommend books if someone asked me I began writing down the authors and titles in October '93. Since then, I have read...let me add it up...1,2,3...485 books. I'm probably boosting statistics by reading other people's share as well. If you find that number impressive, you haven't met favourite-colleague-N. (hereinafter known as FCN, or then maybe not, as this seems to be an acronym for
these guys as googling revealed...). She must have read at least twice the amount in the same period of time and like me deserves key account status at our favourite online bookstore.

In order to aid my own erratic memory, I thought I'd write down a few words on books, right after I've finished them (while my porous brain can still remember what I liked or disliked), beginning with Zadie Smith's On Beauty.

When her much-hyped first novel, White Teeth, came out, I read it, loved it and was looking forward to her next opus only to be very disappointed indeed by The Autograph Man. I could not shake off the feeling that there was this young woman who got lots of praise, cash and rewards for her first hit and therefore felt she had to surpass herself and prove to the world (as if further proof were needed) that she was the embodiment of intellect and could tackle just about any subject. Somehow, she was just trying too hard and I found the book extremely annoying. On Beauty is between those two extremes – an interesting plot but then again reeking of "Hey, look! I might have just turned thirty but I am the authority on anything, philosophy, race, religion, you name it". The story is predominantly set in a (fictitious) American college town and focuses on the relationship between British (white) art historian Howard Belsey and his (black/African American) wife Kiki, their 3 children and how their lives are intertwined with those of Howard's academic antagonist, right-wing Jamaican-born professor Monty Kipps, and his family. Towards the end of the novel Kiki, who has only barely come to terms with Howard's short midlife-crisis-fling with a colleague finds out about another infidelity committed with a member of the Kipps clan and evenutally moves out of the family home, leaving behind her bitter husband. Although Kiki actually is the character the reader can identify with most, she remains oddly one-dimensional. Smith devotes much more attention to the portrayal of her over-ambitious daughter Zora who as a consequence comes across as a much more tangible if decidedly less likeable character. I also did not particularly like the pace of narration – some events are told in elaborate detail while elsewhere the author seems to have pressed the "fast forward" button to push action forward rather bluntly. Verdict: well-written, but definitely not among my favourite "campus novels".

Purchase(s) of the day: Just groceries and cosmetics. (I've already got several compliments for the turquoise jacket, one of yesterday's bargains, which – predictably – I am wearing today.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Deck your halls with sprigs of folly

38 days to go till Christmas Eve. Unlike lots of people I know I love Christmas and am very much looking forward to it already. Or perhaps I just like winter in general. Definitely NOT because supermarkets began stacking their shelves with chocolate St. Nicholases and tree ornaments already in September, but simply because this is the cosy time of the year when you come in from the cold and thaw up with tea and biscuits, idly reflecting on those you intend to bake yourself, decide what present to get for whom and basically reinvent yourself as a domestic goddess. My enthusiasm will inevitably get a damper after the first snow when you drag tonnes of pebbles (not to mention the puddles of dog-pee-laced snow) into your flat together with the cold, but right now, I'm in a nice pre-Christmasy mood. On Sunday I visited relatives in rural Burgenland and apart from lots of apples and pumpkins I took some sprigs of holly back to Vienna. They're now prominently displayed in a red vase and serve as a real mood-enhancer whenever I look at them.
Like their German neighbours Austrians love surveys almost as much as they take pride in coining serious-sounding words and so every winter the media are full of statistics regarding your average Christmas shopper's preferences and - more important - how people are likely to cope with the phenomena of Weihnachststress or, even worse, Vorweihnachtsstress. "Christmas-stress" or in the latter case, "pre-Christmas-stress" refers to the panic that grips you when you are slightly challenged on the time-management front, Christmas wise. I always make fun of those pompous terms and claim not to be affected by either. However, when I looked into my Filofax yesterday to select a suitable date for a dinner with friends chez retailtherapist, I realised that I already had plans for every single weekend before Christmas. Oh-oh! No, I'm not stressed. I said I wasn't STRESSED, right!

Last night, the 17-year-old girl whom I sporadically (i.e. the day before she has a test) give English tuition to cancelled at the last minute and mailed me the notes for her presentation on environmental problems for proof-reading instead. Yes, me = good-natured fool. I realise that this must be a sign of getting old, but I can't help despairing in view of analyses. And no, I don't think she would have come up with something remotely more intellectual in her mother tongue, either. Allow me to quote: One of the biggest problems of the environment is the greenhouse effect, because of the people. Coal, oil and gas by the power stations, industries, transport and energy of the household caused the change of air, which is very bad for all people. (...)In these fuels it should be more power and less pollutant. The energy should convenient used. Consumers can get products which make it easier to use this energy convenient.
Purchase(s) of the day: Erm, did I say yesterday that I was not allowed to buy anything? Well, I've just returned from my lunch-break. With a big plastic bag. See, two jackets (for € 14, 90 each, it would have been RUDE not to buy them) basically imposed themselves on me. And I paid with my Visa card. Plastic's not real money, as we all know

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Binge benefits

Other people might have proper jobs with actual career prospects and impressive fringe benefits. Where I work, we've got what I like to call "binge benefits" instead. My chocolate drawer (it sounds much better in German: Schokolade-Lade) serves as a kind of calorific watering hole for all members of my department (minus the boss) who like to gather in the relative privacy of my room in order to share the latest piece of office gossip while raiding the chocolate drawer. Admittedly, the task of refilling mainly falls upon me, but several colleagues have taken to "park" their goodies in said drawer, making me the honorary keeper of the communal sweet treasure. I take that responsibility very seriously although there's no need to defend it with guns or barbed wire as once something has made it into the cornucopia-drawer, it's common property and everyone's entitled to stop by and snack.

Apart from the sweets employees contribute themselves, we get lots of visitors who bring sweets or savoury treats from exotic places. In most cases, the contents are pretty vile but we fight for the beautiful tin or wooden boxes. Our security guard also buys me pastry twice a week. Every week. I keep telling him that he could have bought himself a yacht with all that money but he just shrugs and says that it's no big deal. The man's obviously on some mission to fatten me up (some more). And, no, I have not actually gained that much weight in the more than seven years I've worked here.

Purchase(s) of the day: None allowed (more or less) until next pay-day as I had to remit a hefty sum to inland revenue this morning.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Pimp my fruit

Some 25 years ago, I tried a kaki, or persimmon, for the first time. I'm pretty adventurous where fruits are concerned and was looking forward to having my taste-buds tickled by this exotic fruit. I was in for a major disappointment as I found the gelatinous consistency and overpowering sweetness quite sickening and therefore made the rash decision to give kakis a wide berth in the future. Until last year that is, when a Japanese colleague – the persimmon is the "national fruit" of Japan after all– offered me a neatly sliced kaki which I reluctantly tried. It bore no relation to its squishy distant cousin I had spat out in the 1980s. Not only was it lighter in colour and surprisingly firm, it tasted like a delicate blend of melon, pear and mango. De-li-cious! Ever since then, I've been hooked on this new-and-improved kaki (generation 5.0 so to speak) and am looking forward to the few weeks when BILLA offers 2 for one €. The slimy variation co-exists and some people actually prefer it.

Purchase(s) of the day: none so far, the day is till young...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

B. revisited

Yesterday I made an excursion to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It’s only about 60 kms from Vienna, pretty much the same distance Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is from my native Klagenfurt. Until I spent a year in Ireland, where I met lots of people who had never in their lives set foot on (mainland) European soil I had taken it for granted that you just had to drive for less than an hour to be in another country. In Carinthia (Austria's southernmost province of which Klagenfurt is the capital), it was and still is not unusual at all to drive to Italy just for lunch followed by the obligatory cappuccino and grocery shopping at an ipermercato every other Saturday. Whenever a friend from abroad would come to visit me while I still lived at home, he or she would inevitably be dragged on a family-excursion each to Ljubljana and Udine (Italy).

When I moved to Vienna, Italy and Slovenia unfortunately moved out of popping-over-for-lunch-reach but Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia became attractive alternatives. Yesterday I was back in Bratislava after a rather long absence. At the time of my last visit (spring of 2003), the old town was more or less one big construction site as the streets were being re-paved with cobblestones.

That project is obviously finished now (see photo) but other parts of the centre still have a distinct post-communist flair. Or at least what westerners tend to associate with it. So for example the TESCO department store where I pilgrimage every time I go to Bratislava just for the nice and somewhat anachronistic range of products sold in the haberdashery and stationery departments. When I first visited the city in 1995 (?) it was owned by Kmart but basically time has stood still in that store which, judging from the density of vistors, must still be very popular in spite of the existance of huge modern malls . Rather inclement weather and the fact that all three of us had "done" the sights on previous visits provided the perfect excuse to visit as many shops as possible with the pretext of thawing out. After a rather unpleasant culinary experience (lukewarm crêpes with dubious fillings) in a very promising-looking establishment we had a nice cup of coffee to get rid of the nasty aftertaste before we headed back home.

I also dragged the girls into a
Bata shoe store, right across the street from TESCO. I'm a big fan of Bata shoes with which I've had an intimate relationship since I was little thanks to the company's many branches in Italy. Last year I visited Zlín, which is basically the HQ of the Bata empire. There, you can visit the Bata villa, seat of the Bata Foundation, the shoe-museum the highlight of which is Thomas Bata's "office" which is actually an elevator without a door enabling him to check the various departments whithout getting up from his desk. From the topmost floor of the museum building you can overlook the former houses of factory workers, a very impressive complex indeed. There's even a Bata University in Zlín. Apart from providing his employees with attractive living quarters, the factory-founder is alleged to have been the inventor of "odd-numbered" prices, i.e. prices like 19,90 instead of 20 to make them appear lower. If indeed he was, he should posthumously be awarded some medal just for that stroke of genius - I'm living proof that it works. Every single time.

Purchase(s) of the day: a pair of shoes (Bata, of course) 2 curduroy hats and an original set of snow-flake-shaped cookie cutters.

Friday, November 11, 2005

(not so grand) opening

This is slightly embarrassing. It's like buying some coveted state-of-the-art (or so you think) gadget when all your friends already own it or - heaven forbid! - a paperback with a Now-a-Major-Motion-Picture- cover. Well, this is what it feels like to start blogging when the rest of the world's at it already. Ah, well.

It was only at the beginning of this year that I found out there was this thing called blogs. I was talking to a friend at a work-related function when suddenly she spotted someone in the crowd and dashed off to talk to him for the rest of the evening. When I met her the following week, she told me the person she'd been talking to so animatedly was a blogger like herself. Right. Come again? She patiently explained it to dumb uninitiated me and duly mailed me the URL of
her blog. When I clicked through her links I was fascinated - to think that there was this completely unknown parallel UNIVERSE out there and an internet-addict like me, self-appointed Queen of Idle Surfing, had no idea it even existed! In my initial euphoria I scoured the web and hopped from one blog to the next for a couple of days before I realised that it was more about quality than quantity and I wasn't actually that interested in just anybody's verbal diarrhoea and photos of their brats and fluffy pets, even if they happened to live in a glamorous place or knew a thing or two about web-design. I finally settled for a mere handful I still check on a daily basis. At the beginning, I was more than happy to be just a blog-reader but gradually decided I wanted to give it a try myself. Boring job and the urge to talk incessantly: lethal combination.

So. Welcome to my humble site. After a week of research in forums regarding how to customise the blogger-template I have bloodshot eyes but am also bloody proud of myself for managing to change the banner, etc. without the help of my tech-savvy better half. At least in IE it looks half-decent so I'm happy for the moment. Small step for mankind, giant leap for Html-illiterate yours truly!

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I'm not adverse to the odd bit of retail therapy. I'm also a culture vulture and bookworm and love travelling so expect these to be recurrent topics. Have I mentioned already that I like shopping? Hence the "purchase(s) of the day" footnote which I intend to make a regular feature. Then again, I might want to discontinue it soon. Who wants written proof of just how much money they waste in their lunch-breaks every day...

Welcome to the world of a veteran retail therapist.

Purchase(s) of the day: Just boring groceries. Mind you, I did try to splurge out by heading to one of the
H&M stores in town that sell Stella MacCartney's limited edition collection. Nothing blew me off my feet enough to actually buy it, though.
eXTReMe Tracker

words and photos (unless otherwise indicated) and banner-design by retailtherapist