Wednesday, April 30, 2014

State of the Union Address

Christopher Allen -- I Must Be Off!
Here's the skinny. I need to talk to you, the mysterious readers of I Must Be Off! You read, but very few of you comment on the posts. I think this is because it's easier to comment on Facebook and Twitter. Or maybe I haven't created a space conducive to commenting. The German in me is speaking Klartext right now, I think. I love you all, want you all to keep reading (the American in me). Maybe Blogger makes it difficult to comment? Whatever the case, I want you to know that you're welcome.

I Must Be Off! will very soon surpass the 1 million hits mark. In May--if the trend holds. There'll be a grand celebration. With wine. And party hats of course. You can have some, wear some if you come to my home in Munich. Maybe a garden party? I'm open for suggestions.

I Must Be Off! is incredibly old school right now. I tried the Blogger Dynamic templates, but they were buggy. I've thought about converting to the "travel blog" format, something more professional-looking with video. Would you like to see someething slicker, or are you happy with the way things are? I have always been more about content than format, but I feel the pull towards format. I need to hear from you.

This blog was started as an internet presence for my writing, and it will always be that. (Remember: it makes you 84% prettier to read my writing.) The odd couple of my mother and the writer Mel Bosworth forced me to start it. Bless them both. They are sweet people. That said, I sometimes feel the urge to split this blog into categories: travel, my publishing news, expat author interviews, gluten-free travel and photography. These are all parts of me; I Must Be Off! is me. I hope you'll keep reading, and I hope you'll comment more. I'd love to hear from you.

I'll be off to the Steiermark wineries in Austria tomorrow for a few days. I can't wait to tell you more about this incredible wine-growing region.

I must be off,
Christopher

PS: Have you started writing your entry for the Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? Check out the guidelines HERE.

__________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Word Riot, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.




Monday, April 28, 2014

Schönbrunn Palace -- Vienna Re-revisited

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
We've been walking in the gardens at Schönbrunn for at least thirty minutes when I turn to Eldon the Lion Lice Trainer and say, "There's something about this rose garden, those faux Roman ruins, this puddle. I've been here before, haven't I?"

"Twice," he says.

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"Why don't I remember these things?"

"You remembered the puddle," Eldon the Lion Lice Trainer says."That's something."

"You'd think I'd remember that honking palace back there." Actually, Schönbrunn looks a lot like most of the palaces built around the same time: blocky, stately--like a 1940s apartment house with a pretty roof, columns and a grand staircase. It's as if all these monarchs had the drawings of Versailles and said, "Make Us that!" But then they saw what it would cost, coughed and added, "just smaller." By the time King Ludwig II of Bavaria had died under mysterious circumstances--he was using all the kingdom's money to build wacky castles--Schloss Herrenchiemsee wasn't even finished. Very similarly to the Berlin Brandenburg "Willy Brandt" airport or the KDF (Kraft durch Freude) on Rügen, it may never be finished. The Schlosspark at Schönbrunn will never be finished. Something the Austrians share with the Germans?

And the trees became walls.
The gardens of Schloss Schönbrunn are a perpetual work in progress. But what a work they are! The most impressive parts of the gardens are where the trees are being formed into imposing architectural features: walls, arches, mazes, galleries, etc. The process of training trees to form these elements must take dozens of decades; and of course these are living creatures, which will one day die and have to be replaced--so the process is by nature never finished. I wonder if the original creators of these gardens took this into consideration. If they'd asked me, I'd have told them to build their walls, arches, mazes, galleries and such out of, say, diamonds. Diamonds are forever.

"Tourists would steal them," Eldon the Lion Lice Trainer says.

"I know I would," I say, looking around sheepishly to see if anyone has heard me. "Phew."

The gardens are maintained by the Bundesgärten Wien_Innsbruck of Austria under the direction of Dipl. Ing. (degreed engineer?) Brigitte Mang.And it's a massive undertaking.

The Schlosspark also features a zoo, an orangery, a desert house, a palm house and a labyrinth, none of which we went to this go around except for the desert house--because I needed to use the bathroom. Mercifully, the desert house had this little guy on display before the ticket booth. I'd already shelled out 50 cents to use the loo, so I was broke.

Pretty Lizard-like Animal on Rock with a cute stumpy tail. I hear he digs with it.
The crowning glory of Schönbrunn is the Gloriette, which sits atop a 200-foot hill at the opposite end of the grounds from the palace. The zigzag up the hill takes only a few minutes. It'll be good for your legs. The view of the palace and Vienna beyond it is impressive enough but not breathtaking. A bit of trivia: Fischer von Erlach had originally planned to build the palace on th rise where the Gloriette now stands. Maria Theresa conceived the Gloriette as a monument to Habsburg power and "the Just War," which would lead to peace. She didn't know much about war apparently. The Gloriette is now a café. At least it's not a Starbucks . . . yet.

The Gloriette up close. The café is there in the middle section.

The Gloriette from afar with the Neptune fountain in front
I have so many questions about the gardens. How many landscape architects and workers does it take to maintain such a labor-intensive endeavor? How many of the palace's 2.6 million visitors a year actually spend money at Schloss Schönbrunn beyond the 50 cents for the toilet? Hmmm. OK, I have only those two questions.

Have you been to this palace? Did you pay to see the interior, or did you just walk around the gardens and take pictures of ducks in puddles?

A duck in a puddle--only one of many pictures of ducks in puddles I took at Schönbrunn.
And here: Bird on Bench -- there does seem to be an animal theme to this post.

I must be off,
Christopher

Have you started writing your entry for the Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? Check out the guidelines HERE.
__________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.

 

   



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Beautiful Birthday Reading -- Lori Fischer reading "Pretty"

I wrote the story "Pretty" several years ago. It's a special piece to me because it was my introduction to the literary ezine I've edited for the last few years: Metazen. Life has become very full and quite complicated recently, so Metazen will be taking a hiatus until autumn. If I am at all able to continue with this litzine, I will.

I love Lori Fischer's reading of "Pretty". She nails the feelings of this little girl so trapped by her mother's expectations of the world.

Below is the link to the Metazen publication. Copy it and paste it into your browser if you want to read along.

http://www.metazen.ca/?p=1654

Here is Lori Fischer, wildly talented screenwriter and actress, reading the flash "Pretty":

Once again, thank you to Lori Fischer for making this birthday pretty.

I must be off,
Christopher
____________________________________________  

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Beautiful and Beautifully Read Birthday Present

I have great friends. One of them, Lori Fischer--award-winning playwright, screenwriter, actress, songwriter and writing instructor--has given me something quite special, so I'd like to share it with you. She's read several of my pieces of short fiction and also had several read by actor Paul Deboy.

Here is Paul DeBoy reading Beyond the Fences (Flash Frontier). To read along, copy the following link

 http://flash-frontier.com/2013/10/10/october-2013-rescued/ (You'll need to scroll down to "Beyond the Fences")
and open it in a new window before you click on the Player below.




Thank you again, Paul and Lori!

I must be off,
Christopher

___________________________________________


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vienna Revisited

Horses and Vienna -- Inseparable
Vienna is big. Have you ever noticed this? Does it keep you up at night? We passed a sign on the road while visiting the capital of Austria last weekend that said Vienna has 1.7 million brains. Unless some of the citizens of Vienna don't have one--or some have two?--I'd guess this is the population. I'm not even going to Google it. Just going on faith here.

I've been to Vienna so many times, but this time was different: I was traveling with people who'd never been to Vienna and actually cared about learning something about the city. Who knew this could be fun? Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy learning about the cities I travel to; I just don't like museums, organized tours and slow-poke viewings of royal bedrooms, studies and such. I'm never going to remember who slept where. And once you've seen one king's chambers, you've really seen them all. Right? I'm much more intersted in petting the horses outside.

The first time I visited Vienna, I was so sick with the flu that I did almost nothing but lie in bed and drink juice from the market around the corner from my hotel room. That was 20 years ago. Since then, I've been to Vienna who knows how many times. I've walzed there on New Year's Eve. I've strolled through the parks and drunk those silly, millky melanges. I even had Sacher Torte before I discovered I had Celiac Disease. But this time Vienna was more educational than all of the other times slapped together--all because of those traveling companions who just had to know everything. Bless them. So here's where I Must Be Off! becomes informative. Brace yourself. This won't happen often.

Have you ever heard of a Heuriger? I bet not. A Heuriger is a new wine and also the person/establishment that sells the new wine. I should have known what it means since the German word heuer means this year in Bavarian. If you're at all familar with Austria, a Heuriger is like a Buschenschank in the Steiermark. These are small producers of wine and other delicacies that have a special licence to sell their own wares. It's kind of similar to the biergartens of Munich--all very informal and relaxed. See links at end of post.

We also made a stop at the Hundertwasserhaus, something I have never done despite the fact that I've known about the house in Vienna for ages. It's a tourist mecca for visitors from all over the world. There's just something about cute, fantastical architecture that spells TOURISM. Here are some pictures. I took so many. Also, see links at end of post.






Apparently, no visit to Vienna is complete without a few hours spent at the Prater, an amusement park that has seen its best years--and it saw them decades ago. I'm not sure what the city should do with this place, but they should do something. It's a creepy, dying funpark but still a well-known tourist attraction. Maybe we were there at the wrong time, but there didn't seem to be enough visitors to ensure profitability. No one was playing the games (shooting, darts, that impossible pyramid of cans that no one can knock off the platform). The rides were in operation but never full. The restaurants were deserted, and some of the buildings in the park were empty. My box of kebap from Big Fat Kebap was excellent, though--and cheap.




Me being a creepy pickpocket.
The Donuapark was getting some TLC from landscape architects and mowers while we were there. It will be prettier in May. Before taking a walk around the grounds, we rode to the top of the Donau Tower. Our wheelchair rider and a companion rode free--that's a savings of 14 euros. While this tower isn't the tallest or cleanest or most impressive in its class, it is well run with friendly, competent employees. The views of Vienna in the rotating restaurant are excellent.

International Centre, Vienna from the Donau Tower

Bungee jumping anyone? Anyone?

The Donau Tower from the Donau Park

Next time, I'm going to take you to the real jewel of Vienna: Schloss Schönbrunn and its magnificent gardens.

I must be off,
Christopher

Hundertwasserhaus Blog
Heuriger

Have you started writing your entry to The Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? It's free, and there's a bit of money to be won. Here are the GUIDELINES

________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

London -- The Museum

Me playing at The London Museum (making museums fun!)
For my birthday last week, we spent a long weekend in London. My love-hate relationship with Londinium goes way way back--not quite as far back as the name Londinium (AD 36) but almost, in fact to 1998 when we lived there and the roof collapsed on the house we were renting. London fulfilled all the clichés then: It rained every day the first month. The public transport was stupendously unreliable. I'd wait 30 minutes for a bus to come, then three would come at the same time. Tube stations would be closed when I needed to get to the airport quickly. The food was bland and fatty. But that was then; now that I know London much better, I find ways to circumvent the clichés.

A student in one of my classes a couple of months ago harped and harped on "bad British food". No matter what we talked about, she always came right back to "bad British food". She was so critical that I found myself taking up for my London--my sweet wonderful Lundenburh, as the Anglo-Saxons named it. You see, you can find great food in London; you just have to know how to avoid.that bad food. I assume my student was talking about the bland and fatty food. Since I have celiac disease, I can't eat meat pies, Scotch eggs, savoury and sweet puddings, scones or fish and chips anyway. These rich traditional favourites can be delicious--or so I've heard--but British cooking has come a long way since John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich supposedly asked to have his fatty meat put between two pieces of bread (so he could play cards while eating).


St Paul's Cathedral with Bus on My Birthday

If you want to find excellent food in London, take the Tube to Camden Town and browse the Camden Market. The food stalls there are a foodie's paradise. Sure, the food at Camden Market is international cuisine, but that's what London is all about. If you want a quick and healthy bite, pop into the supermarket section of Marks & Spencer for one of their salads. They have an incredible variety, and it's much cheaper to buy one of these salads than to have lunch in an expensive restaurant. If it's sunny outside, you can find a bench down by the Thames.

Sadly, but not altogether unexpectedly, it rained most of the weekend on our trip.

A miniature of terraced housing in London which looks a lot like where we used to live in Clapham


What can you do in London if it's raining and you hate museums? Well, you can stay home and watch British TV. I love the gardening, cooking, painting, auction, comedy and game shows, but what if there's nothing but cricket, snooker and darts on? What if the Grand Nationals are on, and you can't think of anything more boring that watching a horse race? Go to the cinema? We saw Noah on Saturday at Leicester Square for 22 pounds each--a lot of money to pay for such a stupid movie.The acting was very good, but the story, those ridiculous rock angels and the quirky transitional gimmick with the snake and the fruit made me shake my head more than a few times. When we left the cinema it was raining despite the fact that God had just sent us a rainbow in the cinema.

A detail of a lift door at the Savoy Hotel on display at The London Museum
We went to the pub, but you can't spend an entire long weekend in the pub, can you? Or can you? We didn't. We went to a museum. Yes, I jumped over my shadow as the Germans say and went to a museum. I enjoyed it more than, say, snooker or horse racing, and it was educational. Those fun facts about Londinium and Lundenburh up there are straight from my visit to The London Museum. I already knew about the sandwich guy.

Is it incredibly superficial, yet completely honest, of me to tell you that the only reason The London Museum interested me at all is that learning who owned the bakery where the Great Fire of 1666 started might improve my chances of winning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? if I ever were to appear on the show, which is unlikely? I've actually forgotten his name now. I know his last name starts with an F, so I'd probably get it right with the 50/50 joker. Googling it: Thomas Farriner. So there you go: Thomas Farriner--if you're ever on Who Wants to Be a Millianire?

Last weekend we stayed in Barbican, just north of The City. Something that struck me this time on our long walks around town--apart from the light rain pattering our faces--was that there are so many hang-out-style restaurants and cafés serving creative food in this area. They're everywhere here in this student quarter. We didn't hang out at any of them, but I did take note. We tended to make stops at Starbucks, where I found a gluten-free panini that was quite tasty. On Northcote Road in Clapham, I also found a gluten-free crépe at a place called Samba Swirl.

On my birthday, the sun finally came out, so we thought we'd go to the zoo but opted for the pub when we discovered the zoo would set us back 24 pounds per person. Yikes. This might have been worth it if we'd had the whole day, but we had only 2 hours for the zoo. We ended up eating the "two steaks and a bottle of wine" deal at the pub across the canal from Camden Market for 17.99. A grand deal, and we did get to see animals after all. On our plates.


I must be off,
Christopher

Have you started writing your entry to The Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? It's free, and there's a bit of money to be won. Here are the guidelines.
_________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.