By Mickey Howley
Dietmar Felber was in town last week. Diet—as he is called (pronounced like deet, not diet)—is originally from Innsbruck, Austria. I met him some 30-plus years ago at the University of New Orleans, we were both students. UNO has an exchange program with the University of Innsbruck. Diet liked New Orleans, ended up staying, and has for many years taught German at Tulane University. And he has spent some time in Water Valley. Back in 2002 he was here for much of the summer visiting and helping us work on our house.
During Katrina he stayed in New Orleans, we called him well before the storm hit and told him to come up, but he is a bit stubborn. And in the days after the storm, with his canoe, he helped many of his uptown neighbors to high and dry ground. But after a week of paddling the streets, everyone was out. He bicycled the levee up to Baton Rouge. That’s where I picked him up and brought him to the Valley. So he was here in 2005 for several weeks while New Orleans was being pumped dry. Counting those two longer stays and two overnight visits since then while heading to the Ozarks, I figure Diet has the most WV experience of any Austrian.
So, when Diet and his long-time girlfriend Tracy were here for Thanksgiving, I was really interested in what he would say about the changes downtown. Perhaps it is a not such a strange memory for a German professor, but he really remembers the Kafka Bookstore in the Parker Building.
It seemed to me that store was not so a Kafkaesque place other than it was somewhat confusing. So we were walking around downtown last Friday morning and several of the businesses were closed or only partly open. I was a bit aggravated at this, hoping to show off the Valley in the best new economic light. Diet did not seem too surprised at things being closed. And I remembered he comes from a place were small towns still are doing well, where the towns collectively shut down for holidays. They don’t have this 24/7/365 mentality. They realize the people who own and work the stores have family too. They also want to celebrate holidays. Everyone. They know it is tough enough to be in small town retail, much less have the expectation that you don’t get a holiday weekend off. Austrians (like the Swiss, Germans, French, and even the Italians) know as a good citizen you should plan ahead and not expect to shop on a holiday weekend. That’s not what holidays are for. Now this attitude might not make them the most spontaneous folks on the planet, but everyone gets a unifying break at the same time. It is what they do as a nation. And at one point there were true holidays in the U.S. But now it seems we can shop on the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and the big box stores entice us with sales to do so. Seems wrong, a holiday for only some.
Last week, in one Aus-trian guy’s ten-year Valley perspective, we were still on the right track.
There’s an art evening at all three galleries this Friday, starts at 6 p.m. New work, new shows, all original. The Christmas parade is this Saturday December 1 at 1 p.m. I always get a big kick out of the parade—it is just great to see the sidewalks lined with people having a good time. Be sure you come out for it.