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.
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!
Graz is a paradise for men who like tall, blond, slim blue-eyed angels-like-women. They are all over the place and they are truly beautiful. Being a Taurus, I like aesthetics and I found myself staring in admiration at more than one of them. I don’t know if women have always been slim in Graz, however while biking in the main city park, I came across stunning statues in a fountain that were a solid bronze proof that at some point in time, women might not have been so slim and fit! I don’t know much about Austria’s history, but these statues reminded me of the round shaped figures I saw in Budapest. So where do these tall blond creatures come from? In any case, those kinds of classic parks are one of the things I am missing in Israel. This large green space carefully groomed, the living pieces of ancient art, the ponds, the fountains, the flowers. It is true that endless deserts have their charm too, but still…
Clothes-wise, many people dress very classy. The women especially wear scarves, which seems to me unbearable in the summer, but it looks that they wouldn’t leave their house without a scarf around their neck the same way we wouldn’t go out without underwear – would we?!
What amazed me is that even when they are older, women remain slim and fit.
It was so great not to have to be constantly “water minded”. I joyfully brushed my teeth without having to close the tap 4 times during this 2 minute process. It is true that besides hostile neighboring governments, Israel has been blessed with many blessings, but water – a trivial indispensable necessity – is unfortunately not one of them.
If you go to Graz, you won’t be able to practice the infamous Israeli national sport: double crossing people on line, whether with your car at a traffic light or at the supermarket, because there is no line! Almost no traffic jams in the streets, no packed buses, no long queue in the supermarkets. In Graz, life seems to flow at the pace of the candy-like colors of the houses taken straight out of a fairy tale.
One of the widespread physical activities I saw in Graz was “speed stick walking”. I saw individuals and groups of people walk rapidly while holding sticks. It reminded me of cross-country ski, but seeing it in the summer, in the city with no ski, looked quite funny. People explained to me that the sticks help them walk faster and activate their arm muscles.
If you go to Graz, your palate will get acquainted with two new ice cream flavors: sesame and chestnuts. I loved them! There were more new flavors for me but I did not understand what they were so I passed for this time. A propos food, being a Kosher food eater my possibilities were quite limited, but everything I tasted was good, from bread to cheese, yummy yogurt with chocolate flakes, corn soup, and the uncircunventable vegetarian lasagna of Salz und Pfeffer from Dietrieschen Platz.
Grazers are attached to their cultural tradition. Besides stores of traditional Austrian costumes in which I heard people still dress up at weddings – how cool! – you might hear musicians playing harp in the streets!
I have never seen so many stores of jewelry made of natural stones as in Graz. Everybody wears natural stones there. It seems to be part of their tradition or culture. I love stones myself and believe in their various energies. Nothing mystical to it, even though mysticism is not a tabu word for me. I believe G-od provided Man with everything he needs for his existence in this world. I believe the creation is supporting us in many ways and holds the knowledge and wisdom that help us find our way and grow on the path of life. The planets, animals, plants and stones as well.
Another thing about Graz and this might sound funny to you, is that it seems to be a bug free city. I did not come across any bug, no spiders, no cockroaches whatsoever.
I have not seen any aggressive or sexually provocative street ads. Probably because there are no ultra orthodox around, so what’s the point, it wouldn’t get anybody aggravated .
I saw no couples hugging or kissing in the streets. No noticeable signs of affection. I did see couples jogging together or walking together hand in hand, reflecting some kind of intimacy. I liked Austrian men. They looked kind, caring with their girlfriends, wives and children. In general, I did not see them looking at women the way Israeli men look at them. There is to my taste something more decent, cultivated in the way they relate to women.
Like in Paris and Rome, people here have class and know how to dress. What can I tell you… although I like the casual and natural way of being of Israelis, which gives them authenticity, I LOVE the European elegance and charm.
In Graz, people are allowed to smoke in restaurants and in that respect, we are more advanced than them.
I was surprised to see that the Grazers’ English is not better than the French’s, although they did not get as bad a name.
Keeping kosher made me visit supermarkets quite often during my stay and that’s one of the places where I made some interesting findings. First of all, there are many medium size supermarkets and no huge and endless ones like in Israel. You can find everything, and if you don’t find it, the Grazers probably don’t need it – so chances are you probably don’t need it either. What is sure is that you get less tired doing your shopping and you waste less time. I found the experience less exhausting than going to the supermarket in Israel. It is to be noticed that in Graz supermarkets, the shopping carriages are smaller than in Israel. People there buy substantially less food. I have not seen anybody with a carriage pouring over. So by and large, Grazers seem to have smaller families and / or to eat less. Especially at night. By 7pm, everything is closed, including supermarkets. So if you want to jump over to the supermarket in order to grab some food, you’d better adjust your eating habits. All these plus the active lifestyle they lead, might account for Graz habitants to be by and large slim and fit.
I found Grazers to be innovative and efficient in many ways. They have a system where, after you have picked your fruit and vegetables, you weigh them yourself and a machine prints out a sticker with the price. This way, when you get to the cashier, people who are behind you in the line (that doesn’t exist as there are no lines in Graz, remember) do not have to wait until the cashier does what you’ve already just done yourself. This saves everybody precious time.
They also have a machine that enables you to press your own orange juice right into a bottle waiting there for you. Then they have these small carriages made for children, which enables them to pick their items. Of course it is probably a good sales promoter, but it also involves the children, makes them feel part of the “shopping adventure” and gives them an opportunity to feel they “have a role” just as daddy and mummy, which is always a good thing for their sense of self confidence and self worth.
If the kids are too young to push their shopping carriage, they will be able to enjoy “driving” the plastic automobile attached to their parent’s carriage, here too, keeping them busy and making the shopping session less of a stressful situation for everybody.
Another creative marketing idea I have seen in supermarkets is to prompt buyers to buy fruit by putting cut pieces into a large transparent plastic bowl with an attached cover. No sales person is needed, after the jaws clap on the tender melting fruit and the toothpick withdraws, they want more. What could be more convincing than experience itself?
Another example of Graz efficiency is the buses/ trams time tables. At every bus/tram station there is either a printed time table or a digital one which tells you exactly when the next bus/tram is arriving. I find it so respectful and empowering for the public. As we already know, knowledge is power. People are not left ignorant and totally dependent on the bus/tram drivers. There is order and it confers confidence, reliability and comfort.
On the other hand, as modern as their buses are, they don’t have air-conditioning, and when it’s hot, you are on for a sauna ride!
And if we are speaking of transportation, although the bus/tram system is very good, I would strongly recommend the bicycle. Bicycle riders are an integral part of the city’s landscape. There are riding tracks almost everywhere. So sometimes on the same street you have a track for pedestrians, a track for bikers going in one direction, a track for bikers going in the opposite direction, a track for cars going in one direction and one for cars going in the opposite direction! I agree, you can do that only if you have really wide streets, but then everybody gets to go where they want and how they want. The surprising thing is that in spite of all this traffic in all directions, there are very few accidents.
In any case, riding a bicycle in a city you don’t know is for me the most enjoyable way to discover it. In Jerusalem, I ride a small motorcycle and I love it, but to me, riding a bicycle on fairly flat ground is even more enjoyable. First of all it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere. Second of all, it gives you a direct contact with the world around you. Besides that, moving fast with the power of my body gives me a sense of independence and freedom that are a source of great joy to me. I loved riding trough the colorful streets of Graz. I loved seeing all these people riding: these youngsters skillfully flying on wheels, these older women with designers shoes, dressed in business suits, these parents with their young children, it was so beautiful to see. What also pretty amazed me was to see that people often leave their bicycles without locks and actually find them back. I don’t really know how that happens; taking into account that my adored motorcycles were stolen three times and had probably reached the so-called Palestinian territories even before I noticed they had been gone. I also noticed that I barely saw the presence of the police during my stay. Let alone soldiers! A bit like a different planet on that same globe!
I did see an unattended bag on a bus seat. I immediately informed the driver who was not overly moved by my discovery. I told him that where I come from, when there is a bag in a bus, all the passengers get off immediately. He stared at me in shock and asked me: “where do you come from?” Well I told him and then he understood !
So if you ever go to Graz, I recommend you rent a bike. They will give you a bicycle that suits you the best, they will even attach a basket to it if you ask them nicely, and they will give you a lock. All this with extreme kindness and patience for 8 Euros a day or 16 Euros from 2 days up to one week! This way you can go anywhere you want, park easily, get off your bicycle to take a picture, or to buy something you saw in a window store and you don’t have to carry your bags with you.
I’ve seen many coupé cars. Which show that Graz residents know how to enjoy life and are not ashamed of it! I believe that if you have earned your money honestly and give 1/10th of your revenues to charity, you are entitled to enjoy all the good things this world has to offer and a beautiful convertible red BMW surely is one of them!
There must be a down side to Graz, but I’ll have to come back to find it!
When I bought my ticket, I wasn’t sure if I should take the return for the day my singing workshop ended or if I should stay a few more days and tour in a city where I didn’t know a cat (it’s a French saying). Not only did I have a successful workshop, but I had spent 3 wonderful days in Graz. As it appears, when you come with an open mind, you see things with the eyes of the heart, you hear things with the ears of the heart and things and people vibrate at the same frequency back at you.