Friday, March 16, 2012

Around We Go

Around we go!
The Sellaronda is iconic for, if nothing else, the fact that it's a merry-go-round of sorts for skiers and the only one of its kind -- trails and chairs linked together to form a circuit -- in the world.  The route circles the Sella, the massif in the Italian Dolomites, and depending on the direction you go, is between 36 and 38 kilometers long (chairlifts and trails combined).  The skiing isn't particularly difficult -- any intermediate skier could easily go the distance  -- but given the length and unpredictability of the weather (high winds are common), skiers are advised to start no later than 10am.  Lisa and I set out shortly after the resort opened and, for no particular reason, chose the counter-clockwise direction (green).  If you ski conservatively -- lollygag? -- the Sellaronda should take between five and six hours but with Lisa bombing all the groomers (the trail is nothing but) and me straggling behind ("waaaiiiittt for meeeee!"), we finished considerably faster.  The skiing is good -- it's Europe after all -- but not as good as some of the resorts we've skied in Austria.  Après-Ski, however, was just as lively. 
Emasculating or not, that pinkish-orange drink -- an Aperol Spritz-- is tasty.
And the rest of the day -- clockwise if you will -- follows...

Pizza for lunch.  Naturally.  It's Italy. 
The Dolomites ("Dolomiti"):  UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site
"Take my picture already...you've been lollygagging all morning!"
Around-and-around we go...
Follow the green arrows.
"Green or orange?"  "I asked you first." 
The next day we opted for less direction and a slower pace:  we cross-country skied.
A natural!
Clearly confused.  Or in awe.  Probably both.
And idle content.
Après-Cross-Country-Ski!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gritty Politeness

Americans are a friendly lot.  The Viennese -- not as much.  Polite?  Yes.  Cordial?  Sometimes.  But friendly and warm?  Pragmatic and blunt are more like it.  Waiters in restaurants don't introduce themselves by name (first or last) and they don't tell you they'll "be taking care of you this evening."  The customer-vendor transaction rarely is -- or becomes -- personal.  Diners don't care what the server's name is, where he/she is from, and that they're aspiring to be a reality TV star, doctor, or both.  Shopping for clothes is a similar experience:  it is a rare occurrence if a salesperson approaches you and volunteers to help you find a particular color, size, or style.  If you need help, you ask.  Nordstrom this isn't.  This isn't to say, however, the Viennese aren't helpful -- they are when called upon (usually) -- but they have no interest in feigning over-the-top friendliness just to make a sale.  This was a bit jarring at times but once we got used to it, we began to like it.  Turns out this frosty politeness is, according to the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, an Austrian stereotype:  "First of all, they are very polite and second, they don't mean it."  In the first 3:15 of the clip posted below from the Conan O'Brien talk show, Waltz explains the differences between Germans and Austrians as well as stereotypes the Austrians as insincerely polite.  We don't know whether or not the stereotype is offensive to an Austrian but at least the brusqueness -- much like the customer service -- isn't personal.