Vyst's Misadventures Through Europe

Christmas Update 2012

Experienced: Summer-December, 2012 Written: December, 2012

Hi friends, family, and other disheveled, mis-sorted miscreants that have happened to happen across this webpage! I'm sure most of you have noticed that after posting and announcing my website, I (and Ant) proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it. I give you all my tumultuous cascading swath of apologies for said behavior and a reassurance that I shall endeavor to do better in the future. I shall now give a quick longer-than-I-thought update as to what I've been doing the past few months.

First of all, for those who haven't gotten the news, I've recently started doing Systema. Systema is a martial art with a Russian background that has many similarities to Aikido, and for those who haven't heard of it I recommend checking out the crazy dudes doing it on youtube. The Systema group that I found here in Vienna is rather new and doesn't have any senior students, and because of my Aikido background I appear to have auto-graduated into senior(ish) student status. I've been driving around Austria and into Germany to meet with Systema guys and check out seminars (I missed the one in the Czech Republic) while doing my best to provide some sort of "martial awareness" leadership in our group back home. Our instructor, an Austrian guy named Alex, owns a company which imports tiles out of Poland and sells them here in Austria. During the summer he decided to reorganize and remodel his warehouse by building new storage racks and asked me if I was looking for work. As I more or less ran out of my original money in December 2011, I gave him a more than eager JA!!

During this time I also found myself three tutoring jobs: one for teaching a Sudanese kid English, one for teaching an Austrian girl chemistry, and one for teaching a Columbian kid chemistry, whose father works for the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission at the Vienna International Center*. This last one was an interesting find; I came across him at the suggestion of the father of the friend I was staying with. Because Vienna is a UN city, it's full of diplomats who want their children to go to private schools where the classes are conducted in English. The suggestion was that I offer tutoring to these places in math and chemistry, especially seeing as I had official experience teaching in these subjects.

*I managed to keep my mouth shut about infinite irresponsibility of nuclear energy and the usurpation of local sovereignty at the hands of non-democratically appointed bureaucrats that the UN represents during the lessons.

I had found four different schools to which I sent offers. Two of them never responded, one told me they would put my information on their bulletin board, and the last one emailed me back asking me for my CV ("Curriculum Vitae", i.e. what the rest of the world calls a resume). I thought it was a little weird to ask for this just for an offering of private tutoring, but if an international school was interested enough in me to ask me for a CV, then what the hell, why not. This left me with two problems: first the way they write CVs/resumes over here is different from the way we do it in the US, especially on what points are considered important. Second, I FUCKING HATE writing resumes and will find any and every excuse not to do them.

Luckily my friends dad was there to give me some advice. He's a professor at the University of Vienna and apparently has spent a fair share of his time trudging through CVs. He told me that the "past experience" section should be chronologically ordered with everything that I had been doing since college. The most important thing was to show that I've always been doing something--the worst thing was to have a hole in the time-line. I objected to this on the grounds that I wouldn't be able to fit everything on one piece of paper, but he told me that wasn't so important. I let out a sigh of relief at this--the "one page resume" rule was one that I always despised. I found a template on the internet and got to work fitting my information into it.

I then had to ask myself, of course, what exactly had I been doing for the last year? "Bumming around central and eastern Europe doing my best to imitate a vagabond" didn't exactly sound like a hiring-material sales pitch, so I chalked it up as "Volunteer" to make it look like I had had some sort of plan and gave a very brief description as to what that entailed. As taking care of animals has been a big part of what I've been doing here in Europe, I wrote of all the animals that I've dealt with to date. With a wry grin I typed out ostriches, being careful to nonchalantly put it in the middle of the list:

What? What's on your resume?

Thus along with things like Shinto shrine assistant, Greek tutor, oil-refining laboratory technician, pizza delivery driver, and a teacher of math and chemistry at a private academy for high school girls who play hockey, I was able to include experience working with ostriches. I may be a broke bum in Vienna but at least I have something interesting to put on a job application.

Anyway, it turned out that the receptionist at the international school who had originally received my email was interested in private tutoring for her son, who had just graduated from the international school and was planning on taking an entrance exam to an international university in the Czech Republic to study medicine. Chemistry was one of the subjects, and he wanted three two-hour classes a week to cram during the summer before the test. At 20 euros an hour, I was more than happy to oblige.

Back to my situation at the warehouse; as I started working with Alex building new storage racks, I would often have to drop everything at 3 in the afternoon and scamper to the other side of Vienna to teach English or chemistry for two hours. The work at the warehouse was hard, hot, and dusty. We had to put up and secure 20 foot metal racks and for several of these build wooden ones inside of them. This involved much climbing around like a monkey and hitting things with hammers, which of course is right up my alley.

However in order to do this we first had to get the old wooden racks out, including the tiles on them. Alex was able to do a lot of the work with a forklift, but often the tiles simply had to be moved in classical grunt-like fashion. In building the new wooden racks we often had to scavenge the old ones for suitable wooden beams and sheets, which would often involve jack-hammering the old tile displays to get at the plywood sheets underneath. Alex would always take care of lunch, which consisted of what I would describe as stereotypically Austrian: various meats, sausages, and meat-related spreads on bread. Alex also made sure we were well-supplied with beer, making carrying heavy objects up 20 feet of steel storage rack like a monkey a particularly exciting game. Sometime during the summer Alex's wife came into the warehouse (she does the office work in the other building for the company) and joked at me, saying that I went to school and studied chemistry for four years just so I could do work like this. I was able to tell her with a straight face I would MUCH rather being doing this kind of work than being a wrench-turning monkey in a laboratory.

Thus I would arrive at my tutoring appointments with broken pieces of tile in my pockets, hands black with grime, smelling of beer, and covered in sweat, dust, and sawdust. Can you think of a better way to get ready to explain the differences between polar and polar covalent bonding?

The summer went by rather quickly. The storage racks made their way up and the chemistry material got trudged through. The best part about it was because Alex doesn't speak any English, I was finally forced to communicate with someone in German (as opposed to most German-speakers who just get tired of talking to you in German and switch to English), and all day at that. I didn't manage to remind anyone to get any pictures of me working in the warehouse, but later in the summer we built some frames for advertising Alex's business outside of the office. Here's me balancing on my belly and barely standing on a 5cm diagonal crossbeam while working:

Me swearing at something I dropped.

Does this count as three points of contact?

Are we having fun, yet???

Near the end of September three Systema events came up for our group. One was a seminar in Augsburg, Germany (around the corner from Munich), one was a seminar here in Vienna, and the last was meeting the Systema guys in Tirol, one of the western states of Austria known for their funny accents and dialects. Among the German-speaking community, Austrians in general are known for their funny accents and dialects, making that some sort of mark of approval for space at the bottom of the barrel of readily-understandable speech for the Tirolians.

The trip to Augsburg wasn't so eventful for anyone who isn't interested in martial arts. Six of us showed up from Austria and we were there for the weekend and stayed one night over at the training hall. The one thing worth mentioning was the conversation I had with a local at the bar where we found ourselves Saturday night. This was the first time I was able switch a German-speaker who wanted to speak English with me BACK to German and keep him there.

(The conversation itself floated around and finally moved to him trying to get me to talk about the upcoming presidential "election". I got mildly irritated and told him I didn't care about it, that the whole thing was a clusterfuck shitshow designed to keep people distracted with stupid bullshit, and even if there was a democratic element of the process that it wouldn't matter because both candidates would follow the same policy. He came back at me with something about how Mitt Romney was a criminal. I cut him off mid-sentence, saying that you needed to be a criminal to apply for the position. He shook my hand to that one.)

By the next weekend it was decided that the Vienna Systema group needed to go over and visit the group in Tirol. Daniel, a buddy of mine I met at Systema , had been mentioning the idea for several weeks now, and after we met Phillip (the Systema teacher in Tirol) in Augsburg, the plan was consolidated to head out there the next weekend. Daniel had been a complete newbie to martial arts and had originally started asking me questions in and after Systema class when he heard that I had experience doing Aikido. Normally in martial arts classes I prefer to keep my mouth shut about my previous martial arts experiences, but he kept poking my brain and seemed genuinely interested, so I started talking. We had started hanging out to train privately in Systema, which is when I learned that he runs a private business teaching singing lessons. Not just normal singing lessons; heavy metal scream lessons. He was a singer in an Austrian band for some time and has decided to take what he's learned and make a business out of it.

One of things he focuses on in his lessons is getting his students to relax and use the only the necessary muscles for singing, and of his many methods and exercises of accomplishing this, he uses techniques from shiatsu message which he learned from his dad (who had studied the subject in Japan for some years). He more or less uses this knowledge as a foundation to approach Systema (similar as I use Aikido as my foundation for approach), and our private lessons quickly turned into a mass-information swap; I would teach him how to move and become aware of energy movements and intentions in other people, and he would teach me how to breathe and access forgotten muscles. When I met him at the beginning of the summer, I was still a hurting unit from my exile into eastern Europe, specifically some clusterfuck-pretzelified muscles in my right shoulder that were so knotted-up that I couldn't even look to my right. The guy was actually able to get the Bulgaria out of my shoulder and since I've been able to look to my right without any problems and even go farther into undoing some of the various injuries, stresses, idiocies, and times-I-should-be-dead incidents in my shoulder.

To repeat that, a scream instructor was able to fix the insane crippling knots in my shoulder, something that numerous message therapists, physical therapists, doctors, chiropractors, and osteopaths have been scratching their heads at for years. Talk about gaining a new perspective on the currently exercised health system in the world.

Daniel and I kept the private Systema thing going and eventually started inviting other people from the official group to show up (although when no one showed up we would often end up playing "Systema Chess". That's where you play a normal chess game and whenever you take an opponent's piece, you get to punch him as many times as the piece is worth. What are YOU doing in your spare time?) It wasn't long before enough people began to show up that we would meet in parks, and that the classes began to meet regularly and Alex (the instuctor) started showing up. Thus with my greater experience (i.e. my time spent doing Aikido) and Daniel's ability to organize and keep them organized (something which I fail at miserably), we were able to create and be in charge of our own "unofficial branch" of our official Systema class. Cool, huh?

Thus with our greater amount of organization and autonomy, Daniel was finally able to organize (and motivate) us to get our asses moving over to Tirol. The weekend after the seminar in Augsburg six of us jumped into two cars and drove ourselves over to west Austria. It was about six hours in total and when we finally got there I snickered at the thought that it takes just as long to drive across Washington.

Phillip met us when we arrived in the city of Telfs after dark. He showed us where he held his classes and where we would be training: a Taekwondo dojo with a huge room, mirrors, training equipment, bathroom facilities, and more than enough room to sleep. I usually don't have much positive to say about Taekwondo, but you can't really argue when they're providing such a nice place for you to train at. During one of the training times, everyone decided to take a relaxation break and somehow this photo appeared:

Doing our best to blur the line between martial arts and porn in Tirol!

Yea, I really don't know what's going on here.

The weekend turned out differently from what we expected: I thought the plan was to train with Phillip and his students, but we just ended up meeting and training with Phillip for a small part of the day, then finding ourselves doing something completely different for the rest of the day. This included two cool things.

The first we had been warned about. Kinda. Before we showed up Phillip asked Daniel whether our group was interested in partaking in a soccer match for some festival that the town was holding. It was assured to us that it was nothing serious, so we agreed with a shrug of our shoulders and didn't think much of it until the day came that we actually going to play. As we walked downtown to find the center of festivities, there were some guys blowing up a big frame that looked like one of those blow-up bouncy cages you often see at fairs or whatever else where kids can go in and jump around to the heart's content without fear of hurting themselves. I asked Daniel what the hell was going on there, but he just shrugged his shoulders and looked as confused as I did.

It was around this time I remembered to ask Daniel what the hell was up with that soccer game we were supposed to play. I saw the people who were working on the big green blow-up frame start attaching big metal bars across it and it finally clicked: we weren't going to be playing real soccer. We were going to be playing life-sized fussball. Not only that, we weren't signing up as a ragtag group of schmucks out of Vienna, we were signing up as "Systema Wien". After some rough questioning of everyone I went to Tirol with, this appeared to be a surprise to everyone. The different teams were lining up in uniform and getting their pictures taken from what appeared to be the local newspaper. There was a brief moment of everyone smacking their foreheads for not thinking to bring our SYSTEMA T-shirts, but luckily Theo (our instructor's son) had bought a bunch of shirts from Augsburg the weekend before and forgotten to take them out of his car. We suited up and got ready for our turn in the cage.

We ended up losing both of our matches and getting sent nearly to the bottom of the bracket (one team we were supposed to play didn't show up, so that kept us from the very bottom), but the games were really fun as we kicked a foam ball in and often out of the cage, hoping that whoever had caught it in the crowd would throw it to our team instead of the other. Here are some pictures from it:

T-shirts showed up just in time!

Checking out our competition before the game.

Taunting the opposition.

Get the ball, dammit!

Here it comes...

C'mere you!

Product placement? What?

The required face for heading a super-soft foam ball.

It was this close!!

Phillip was playing for another team and rooting for us on the sidelines. Or... at least he was drinking beer.

The next day Phillip promised to take us up one of the nearby mountains to one of the many lodges that are scattered all over the mountains there*. He drove us up to one of these that was sitting right at the bottom of a huge looming mountainside. A trail wound it's way up the green-laced crags, above which was what us western Washingtonians would considered the standard mountain blue-grey, and to our right the cliffs were a deep red-orange--from what, I couldn't say.

*I had gone for a walk by myself the day before and found myself out of town a little ways up a trail into a mountain where I proceeded to find the most dangerous thing in the area to climb--a channel carved into a cliff that looked fine and safe at first but halfway up ended up being covered in loose gravel and rocks that would rip out of the wall when you tried to grab them. What I had originally calculated as a 0% Doom Potential ended up much worse; I wasn't able to make another Doom Potential calculation because I was too afraid to lose my concentration by looking down, but I knew damn well that there was nothing left to grab a hold to if I slipped and nothing to slow my descent to the rocks below if I fell. Luckily, the loose gravel held together better than I would have imagined and, despite my best efforts, I'm still alive.

I was a little disappointed that we had driven right up to the lodge, but as I was preparing to go inside I saw that Phillip was heading into the woods across from it. It turned out we were going to the lodge over the hills and through the woods! Great! I made an attempt to walk with everyone else, but it was a matter of minutes before I was running up ahead of everyone. The forest was bleeding green with the trees, underbrush, and moss covering everything. It was the place which was the most like western Washington which I have seen in Europe to date and I really felt good taking in the mountain air and the ultra-green scenery.

Private parking! Woes, worries, cares, and everything in between are to be parked here!

If you touch your hands to the top of a bunch of ants they'll create an acid that will make your hands smell. Getting a big whiff of this is supposed to give you a boost of energy for hiking. Worth a shot, right?

Not gonna find cleaner water anywhere else!

Don't I look like I'm having a blast?

And what are we looking at?

The first view of the valley!

The hike wasn't so long--after about 20 or 30 minutes we came out on the other side of the forest where we found another lodge. A guy was outside stacking recently-chainsawed wood. Phillip called out a greeting to him which he sent back in a good mood. Phillip then asked him if there was anything to drink, which gave us a "Ja, sicher!" in response. He took off his gloves and invited us inside. I took some time to look around before going inside. There were small buildings surrounding the lodge which were clearly summer vacation houses and a well continuously spurting out water into a small trough, which contained an assortment of beers. I could hear sheep-bells in the distance and across the valley, which was covered in clouds, the mountain range looked like it was close enough to reach out and grab. Fuckin' gorgeous, if you were looking for a more detailed description.

The town covered in a sea of clouds.

Looks like a good place to spend a week or two in the summer.

Theo looking like a schmuck.

Inside the lodge was a cozy room that which was half dining room and half kitchen. A wood stove in the corner was doing a good job keeping the place toasty and the seating area was made of sturdy wood--something I wouldn't be excited to have to move. The guy soon came out with ours beers and shot glasses, in which he had filled what I assumed was homemade schnapps (it tasted like homemade, in any case). Food soon followed: plates covered in various meats and cheese that we had to slice up ourselves to put on the bread that came with it.

We chatted with each other and with the guy at the lodge and after another round of schnapps we headed back outside for a picture. This time the clouds had cleared up enough for us to see the towns down in the valley, adding to the total fucking awesomeness of the hike. As cool as the nature is back at home, you would never find anything in Washington like this lodge stuck up in the mountains overlooking a town in a valley.

Chatting continued and another round of schnapps was pulled out by the host right before we went outside to get a picture over the valley.

All five of us looking like schmucks!

We made our way back over the mountain to our car and drove ourselves back down the mountain to the dojo. It was time for us to go home. We gathered are stuff and threw it into our two cars and began our journey back to Vienna. I took over driving at Salzburg and we arrived back in Vienna in the middle of the night. It was late and I crashed at Daniel's place.

The return to Vienna was timed perfectly with the start of my next German course and me moving into a new apartment. I'll leave out the gooey details, but the girl I had been living with had decided she wasn't interesting in having me live there anymore. Without a lot of money and not really interesting in trudging myself through the Viennese housing market, I called up Uli the Blacksmith to ask him about his apartment in Vienna that I remember him talking about. Details were quickly worked out and I got permission to stay in his place at a low rent. He mailed the key down from Waldviertal (northeastern corner of Austria) and I hitched myself up to move my ass and the small amount of possessions that I haven't destroyed yet down to Alterlaa in Vienna.

Somewhere in the process of doing this my phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket to see that Terric, the other American who had been helpx-ing with me out at Uli's place, was calling me. The last I heard, when I was banished east to Romania, he had decided to go west over to France and Spain to do a 1000+ mile pilgrimage through many of the Catholic churches there. Apparently he was back in Austria because he was giving me a call. I picked it up to find out that he was looking for a place to stay. He had called Uli as well about the apartment and Uli told him to call me first to check with me. I was still smarting from my recent girl fiasco and was more than happy to have company over. I gave him a yes, met him in the metro, and we caught up about our previous year out-of-Austria experiences as we headed over to the new place.

And besides, I was going to need help... organizing.

One thing that I really noticed about Austrians when I first came over here was that on average they tend to have really big houses and lots and lots of stuff. I don't know if pack-ratting runs in their culture—I've brought it up to several Austrians and the consensus I've gotten back is that Austrians never move anywhere, and thus stuff collects in their huge houses over generations. Uli is a prime example of this. Not only is he a blacksmith and therefore likes to collect anything associated with metal, blacksmithing, and historical artifacts of the like, he's into any sort of handwork activities. In fact he's really into anything that requires any level of technical skill or advanced knowledge to operate.

On arriving to the apartment I found it a little messy. And by a little messy I mean really disorganized. And by really disorganized I mean total disaster. I had managed to do a little bit of cleaning and organizing before Terric showed up, it was like a tornado subsequently hit a dry cleaners, a garbage truck, a museum, a pack of wild dogs, and a Renaissance fair. It was a homogenized mixture of one third cool stuff, one third normal stuff, and one third garbage. To top it off, Uli doesn't really spend a lot of time here as he lives up in Waldviertel now, so he basically uses the apartment as a place to crash and store stuff whenever he's in Vienna.

That means whatever was in the apartment had been sitting there for God knows how long. In between picking through old dirty dishes—old cups with the residual remnants of evaporated drinks, crusty silverware in between pieces of furniture at the walls, and bowls and tupperware with the dusty remains of molds and yeasts starved to death, having long ago devoured their hosts—candy wrappers and dismissed napkins, remains of actual candy, empty boxes of old purchases, personal and financial documents, piles of musty clothes including socks, underwear, fancy jackets, nice dress-up shirts, destroyed dress-up shirts, sheets, pillows, sweaters, stained pants, bath robes (yes, more than one), cascading mounds of books pouring off the shelves they had been haphazardly stacked upon, mounds of video cassettes that must have dated back from the early 90s, mounds of DVDs to bring us to a more current date, old computer games not in their proper jewel cases, boxes of electrical cables and audio cassette tapes, assorted knives and lighters, mismatched bottles of half-drunk alcohol, old dust-covered fans and printers, tool boxes half-filled with tools and half-filled with garbage, computers and monitors, microwaves and fondue pots, fancy cigar boxes and not-so-fancy cigars, and keys in every corner as if they'd been strewn by the flower girl at a wedding, we found swords, mace-guns, a harpoon gun, bits of foreign money (mostly Croatian), a bow, a chess set and a super-fancy go set, piles of other board games, chain mail armor (head piece included!), old ammunition cartridges, unused mace cartridges, self-made knives and arrows, the nicest toy swords I've ever seen in my life, fake stuffed animals, REAL framed animals and animal parts (we've found a piranha and what I think are shoulder blades from a deer so far), a guitar, a didgeridoo, candles, candles, and more candles, candle holders hanging everywhere, iron sconces for holding candles, big blankets with celtic designs hanging on the walls, celtic-style drums, a butcher's cleaver with celtic designs on the handle, hanging baskets, incense and incense holders, huge Chinese ceramic bowls, a hookah, a box of cool rocks and geodes, rocks and geodes all over without boxes, pink salt lamps, big lumps of pink salt put around a light bulb to make a lamp, a 300 year-old bible, books written in Hebrew, a how-to-play-the-didgeridoo CD, turtle shells, heavy old steel sowing machines, old nautical maps of Croatia, large unused rolls of leather and felt, large amounts of leather and felt scraps, skulls and bones of various animals, whips, cool hats, sailing gear, and all sorts of other knick-knacks and weird shit that I don't even know the names and uses for. To top it off, all of this was covered in a layer of dog hair. I won't even mention the ravenous mutated dust bunnies from hell.

We definitely had out work cut out for us. Even though we moved in in October, just now near the end of December can we finally say the entire place is clean and fit to relax in. There were so many dirty clothes that we threw them into the corner of the living room to make a dirty clothes mountain, and it took us weeks to wash it all, as no one in Austria seems to use driers and we had to hang them out to dry. It took us almost two months to get the internet working and we spent the meantime dressing up in Uli's chainmail and playing with the weapons.

Last defending knight of Moorania!

Terric decided to go with the modern-knight look.

Meanwhile it was the beginning of October and my German class started up again. I was excited to get back to school and have a bit more structure in my life—it timed perfectly with finishing the storage racks in the tile warehouse with Alex. The class itself has been rather uneventful and not as challenging as the first semester. I keeping getting my feathers ruffled whenever I'm told I've written too much for a writing assignment and I'm finding the topics of discussion dull and dreary. However, my classmates are interesting to talk with (they usually are when everyone's from a different country), and we've spent several days in the semester going on several outings in Vienna. One day was spent on a scavenger hunt around the central part of Vienna and the rest have all been museums.

Who's that gomer in the middle with the hat?

There he is again!

Who the hell is that guy?

A museum in particular was the modern (past 150 years-ish) economics museum of Vienna. This was by far the most interesting museum, mostly because the staff was so friendly and you were allowed to touch and interact with almost everything in the museum.

Damn! Check out that ass! And people think today's beauty standards are unhealthy.

Trying on the old clothes.

The tour itself was cool, and at the end we were given a demonstration/lecture about the history of starting fires and the tools with which to do it. The guy giving the demonstration was really cool and went through each tool and demonstrated how it worked. He starting with the stick-and-bow technique and told us that he would give 50 euros out of his pocket to anyone who could start a fire with it. He pulled out a flint and tinder box and before showing us what was in it, he tried to get us to guess the contents. He must have been used to audiences who had no idea about it, because after I guessed most of the contents (flint, iron striker, charred clothing material, and tinder) he looked at me and asked, "Wie wissen Sie das?" ("How do you know that?")

"Mein Vater hat Eine und hat mir gelehrt, wie es zu benutzen." I said back with a grin.
("My dad had one and he showed me how to use it.")

He moved on to the first invention of the lighter and how it was created by a Viennese guy who had studied in Germany researching rare earth elements. With the right mixture of these elements he was able to produce a "flint" that was so effective it could be carried around in small containers full of petroleum distillates (lighter fluid). One of the rare earth elements he discovered was neodymium, which explained to us was the strongest magnetic material currently know. It's used in computer hard drives and if you've ever cracked one open and found those magnets, you'll have an idea just how strong of a magnet this stuff is.

The guy then brought out a slab of neodymium the size of a hockey puck. Holding it in his palm and facing it down to the floor, he proceed to drop various ferro-magnetic objects onto the back of his hand: a paperclip, a poke, a small needle, a bigger needle, then a small nail. The magnet was so powerful that each one stood up on end on the back of his hand. I was already about to jump up and ask if I could try when he asked if anyone else wanted to try. The poke and needles didn't really hurt, but the nail gave a good poke and I could imagine it breaking the skin if dropped from a little higher up. Right after that Anastasia from Belarus stood up saying she wanted to try. She took the magnet from me, holding it in her right and grasping my arm with her left.

I had to stand by for moral support.

Cool, huh?

The demonstrator then pulled out a thin sheet of steel and put the hockey puck on it. It connected with a slam! He then challenged anyone to pull it off. After a small amount of grunting and groaning (I was first with the attempt), he pulled out a napkin, put it on the hockey puck, rotated the puck back and forth three times, then pulled it right off of the sheet. He grinned like a magician then put it back on for us to scratch our heads at what he had just done. Much discussion and theorizing was done on just what the napkin had to do with anything. I was thinking some wacky shit about spinning magnets in electrical fields. He demonstrated to us again what he had done and I watched him very closely, so that when I tried again after he was finished I could imitate what he had done exactly. I was rewarded as the magnet was protestingly pried off the steel sheet and I held it in the air. There was a big round of excited noises and I got a congratulated by the demonstrator, who put it back on the sheet for everyone else to continue trying. This resulted in a frenzy of everyone trying to get it off.

Someone from the other class took a shot.

Then Anna from the Ukraine took her turn swearing at it.

Anastasia from Belarus came back for another try.

Then Turkey, Iran, Slovakia, and Hungary attacked it in a mob.

KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. I pulled it off a few more times for everyone else to see and I figured out getting it off was a piece of cake. There was a certain way you had to lever the puck off. The napkin was to make sure both the magnet and your hand was dry before trying to do it.

Meanwhile in the other room a group was trying to get a fire started with the stick-and-bow method, but unfortunately no one won the 50 euros.


Back on the working side of things, work has continued with Alex off and on. Even though the storage racks are finished in the warehouse, sometimes he calls me up to help with putting up advertising signs. As previously shown, this usually involves getting really high-up on and something not very stable and using power tools. For example:

Safety first!

Throw me a beer, will ya?

Break to find the damn drill.

Systema training has also continued and our group continues to develop and grow. Alex originally started the group in February and when I started in May, we were lucky if five people showed up to class. Now it's normal to have twenty or more there every week. Alex is continuously planning on how to expand Systema in Austria and Daniel and I appear to be his main spearheads. I've met a new girl who is a friend of Daniel's and have been spending a lot of time hanging out with her at her parents' place and she has also started doing Systema herself. Here's a few pictures of what's been going on at beginners Systema class:

Class always start with taking a walk and breathing to relax.

Alex demonstrates the most elegant method of getting to the floor.

And everyone else follows suit.

Getting those punching arms trained with push-ups!

Squats should be done always focusing up and keeping a straight of a back as possible.

Someone must be doing something well, because Theo approves!

Now for rolling!

And more rolling!

Daniel gives some advice for softening up.

The first part of a successful defense: don't be there.

You also have the possibility of hitting him just like... that!

That's how it's done!

Time for chatting and theorizing.

Check out the mirror.

Showing Sabrina how to take someone down.

Alex also threw a Systema Christmas party at the warehouse and everyone spent the night chatting and drinking punsch (some hot wine-like drink they serve at Christmas here that's so full of sugar that it's nasty by the third cup) and I drinking punsch and tending to the two fires. I found some time in there to play the guitar, but mostly it was me scavenging wood to throw and the fire and throwing it on the fire. I got a bunch of comments of how great a worker I was. I just laughed—none of them understood that it's an addiction.

Burnin' stuff!

Caution: Pyromaniac at work.

Hanging out in black and white.

Screwing up pictures, along with burning things.

Alex's younger son Yoni waiting for his turn to play the guitar.

Anyway, that's basically the way things are going here now. German classes, lots of Systema, hanging out with a new girlfriend, and scrounging around for work. Hope everyone is doing well in their respective areas! Have a great Christmas and blow up lots of stuff for New Year's!


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