Friday, July 31, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-two

Friday, 6 January, 1989
Oostende to Dover to London to Oxford

The day dawned clear, bright, and beautiful. And me, not only was I up and ready in time to catch the ferry, I had time to take pictures of the ferry port with its new and old buildings, its piers, and its ships while I waited for my boat to come in.

We were underway around 8:00 AM. We cleared the harbor bars and set out into the Strait of Dover, which today was blue and calm, with an equally blue sky overhead. I spent most all of the time up on deck, watching the sunlight sparkling on the little waves and the occasional other craft that sailed past at a distance.

As we approached Albion’s yet-unseen shore, I came to understand that something has happened to me on this European trip, though maybe it started to happen when I came to Oxford last October: I was homesick for England.

Not just for Oxford or Coverdale* or Nigel* or the other people there. For England.

After awhile a horizontal strip of white began to sunder the medium blue of the sea and the pale blue of the sky . . .

Dover. It was the White Cliffs of Dover. Oh, God! It was England there on the horizon, with every nautical mile travelled growing grander and higher and more and more clear and substantial to my hungry, staring eyes. But not fast enough, not soon enough. I took in those cliffs, that shore, and I couldn’t help it-- I wept with homesickness and joy. It was England, it was home, I was coming home!

I wept, and I didn’t care. When we landed and disembarked at the Dover ferry port, I would have precipitously knelt down and kissed the tarmac, I was so glad to be back on British soil. But I was in a herd of other travellers being ushered towards the Customs station, and it would have been hard to explain my behaviour if a fellow-passenger had hurt himself tripping over me. Especially hard, considering I’m an American.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to get through Customs without making a fool of myself, and onto the train for London.

The train from Dover stops at Charing Cross. When I got there I discovered I’d made a false assumption: No, you can’t get a train to Oxford from there. You have to go to Paddington Station, by Underground. Okay! Got myself and my lugguge down to the Tube, and I was happy at least to note that compared to how hard it was to carry it all when I first set out a month ago, now I’m much stronger and able to manage it well, even with all the guidebooks and souvenirs I bought.

My sanguinity about this was demolished, however, when I got to Paddington Station. When I got off the Tube I had ten minutes or less to make the train for Oxford. But just as I was heading for the escalator up to the platforms, one of the straps on my canvas Boy Scout backpack broke! No way I could carry another piece in my hands, so I slung it over my shoulder by the other strap and kept running, with the bag full of books and maps bang, bang, banging away at my poor back.

Aaaghh! I hope I can find a place in Oxford to fix it! I’ve depended on that backpack since I bought it in April of 1972!

By dint of total exhaustion I managed to catch the Oxford train. Not a direct route, of course. Stops in Reading. But we got to Oxford uneventfully and in good time, and I boarded a City bus for the final leg of my journey to Coverdale College* and home.

When the bus stopped on Cornmarket, I noticed something, something linked to how I felt earlier today approaching Dover. It was dark, but I could still see the Oxford women young and old waiting there on the pavement to get on. I could see how badly they were dressed, how frowsily and dumpily they arrayed themselves, especially compared with the Frenchwomen I’d seen, urban or provincial.

And I was ashamed. I took it personally. My initial thought was, "Oh, gosh, don’t we dress horribly!" I identified with those woman, dowdy as they were. They were my townswomen, my countrywomen, even, and I wished we could all do better.

But there it is: "We." Damn, I am getting tied up in this place . . .

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty-one

Thursday, 5 January, 1989
Frankfurt am Main to Oostende

FRANKFURT-AM-MAIN-- The object in coming to
Frankfurt was to visit Richard Meier’s Kunsthandwerk Museum and its contents. And happily, it was quite within walking distance, across the river via the Friedensbrucke, along the Main on the Schaumainkai, and there you are.

Weather was gray and misty again today, but Mr. Meier’s pure white building showed itself well in it, regardless. The communicating spaces-- ramps, hallways, stairs-- are all lavishly equipped with large windows and skylights, so it seemed light inside in spite of the weather.

The exhibition galleries have to exclude the natural light, of course, in order to protect the artifacts. And they were worth protecting. Eric* would kill to see all those furniture pieces by
Van de Velde, Josef Hoffmann, and Rietveld! Me, I wished it were a shop and I were a millionaire: I’d be saying, "I want that one, and that one, and that one . . . "

As well as the early 20th Century work, there was also a modern gallery with ceramics and glass. Of course I think of the Art Institute of Kansas City and its
ceramics program . . .

After I’d seen the Kunsthandwerk exhibits I took the time to go back outside around the museum and photograph the exterior some more, including its relationship with the original Villa Metzler. Very nicely done.

I didn’t have a lot more time in Frankfurt, since I had to catch the train for Belgium and Oostende around 2:30 PM, in order to get the ferry for Dover first thing tomorrow. But I squeezed in a bit more pleasure crossing the Eisener Steg (the Iron Footbridge), which I liked very much, and walking into town to the
Römerberg Platz. Beautiful half-timbered townhouses and shops, with beautiful things.

I grabbed myself something to eat at a Koffeehaus. After that, looking in the window of a stationer’s, I saw something I simply had to have. It was a 1989 wall calendar, and the decoration for each month was a photographic recreation of an
English Arts and Crafts wall tile. Not only that, but these images were printed on semi-gloss vinyl sheets and anchored to the calendar pages only along the top, so they could be pulled off, their backing removed, and then stuck to your bathroom wall or wherever you preferred.

I dashed in and bought it. Then, still dashing, I did something that due and heartfelt devotion to Art demanded I do before leaving Frankfurt: I passed out the top of the Römerberg, through Paulsplatz with its great domed Kirche, through the little streets, and around to the Großer Hirschgraben to the birthplace home and museum of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. Had time to do no more than to kiss my hand to the author of so many poems set to music by Schubert and others . . .

Then it was on by and continuing my counterclockwise career back to the hotel to pick up my bags and get me and them over to the Hauptbahnhof on time for the train.

ON THE TRAIN-- It’s a lovely journey. A ways out of Frankfurt, the Main runs into the Rhine and the train tracks run alongside the river. Not exactly your classic Rhine River boat cruise, but I got some of the same views of villages and Kirchen in the valley and castles and Weingarten on the hills.

Annoying, then, that I couldn’t remember the words of that poem I learned in Latin class back in Philadelphia, the one that starts

Quis color illa vadis

and goes on to say something about the "monte Mosellam,"† how the vineyards were reflected in the mirror of the river. This river wasn’t the Mosel, but it felt appropriate anyway.

The train stopped for a goodish while in both Bonn and Köln. From what I saw of it from the window, Beethoven’s birthplace looks like it’d be a beautiful city to visit.

Probably should’ve been catching up on my travel journal, but I spent most of the ride staring out the window at the scenery, even when that was only people’s back gardens and German factories and supermarkets. The rest of the time I was mentally spinning out a romantic fantasy in which I magically go back in time and end up lost and confused in the woods near La Côte St. Andre, and one of Hector’s sisters finds me and takes me back to chez Berlioz, where the (currently-unmarried) eldest son of the family just happens to be visiting from Paris, and well, hey, it was very relaxing and entertaining . . .

When we pulled into Bruges I was really, really wishing I had a day or two more on my EurailPass. Seems a pity to go through Belgium and effectively skip it altogether. But I’ve checked, and all my train travel has to be completed by midnight.

So it was on to the ferry port of
Oostende, where I was directed to a small hotel across a bridge, not far from the train station.

OOSTENDE-- Here I am at the Hotel Capricorne at Vindictivelaan 31, which boasts a bar and a restaurant, too. I didn’t feel like exploring whatever there might be of the town-- it was dark by the time I checked in, I was tired, and it’s rather confusing here, with the piers and bridges and canals and inlets and so on. So I stayed put and marked the end of my Europe tour with a dinner in the hotel restaurant.

The meal looked more towards England than back towards Belgium or any part of the Continent. Steak frites and chips, the most promising option on a menu obviously aimed towards Britons who have no interest in "that forrin muck." Boring, familiar, tasteless, and tough. Reminded me of what I ate on the ferry coming over.

The service, however, reminded me of the café in Lyons. I was the last one in the restaurant and the waitress (who may also have been the hotel owner or one of them) disappeared into the kitchen after bringing me my food. She may have gone on out the back door and jumped off the dock for all I knew, for it got later and later and I never saw her more.

It got so late, it was past 10:00 PM and I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get to bed to get up early to catch the Dover ferry. So I did the rude but effective thing and presented myself at the kitchen door to ask for the check. Got it, paid, and returned to my room for my last night on the Continent-- at least for awhile.
†By Decimus Magnus Ausonius (A.D. 310-395); part of a larger work called "Mosella":

Quis color ille vadis, seras quum protulit umbras
Hesperus, et viridi perfundit monte Mosellam?
Tota natant crispis juga motibus: et tremit absens
Pampinus, et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.
Adnumerat virides derisus nauita vites,
Navita caudiceo fluitans super aequora lembo
Per medium, qua sese amni confundit imago
Collis et umbrarum confinia conserit amnis.

Obviously, though, I’d forgotten not only the words, but also the grammar. If I should locate the translation I did in class, I'll append it. Seems like cheating to use someone else's.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Thirty

Wednesday, 4 January, 1989
Karlsfelden* to Saßenberg*, Bebenhausen, and Tübingen;
to Stuttgart and on to Frankfurt

Friedl* and Anni* did us the honors of the region this morning. First stop, Friedl’s church in Saßenberg. The others were ahead of us and by the time Friedl, Theo*, Phoebe*, and I got to the church, Anni, Chrissie*, and Pete* were already waiting there.

The church building, which I think is dedicated to St. Michael, is a small stucco structure with stone facings and a half-timbered cupola. They’ve recently redone the interior and renewed the Scripture passages inscribed around the edges of the wooden balcony. They had a big Christmas tree, with electric candles, set up by the elevated pulpit, with a smaller tree and a creche arranged at the pulpit’s base.

Friedl’s vicar was there and took pictures of us all with our own cameras.

After that, we drove over to the old Cistercian monastery at
Bebenhausen. It struck me how different German Medieval architecture is from English or French. Much more blocky, less intricate or decorated or pointed.

Though I guess you couldn’t say that of the great tall roof of the monastery. It seemed to reach two or three storeys high, all pierced with little windows. Friedl said that’s where the monks slept.

The other thing that hit me was how different it was visiting the church here from how it was when I visited all those cathedrals and abbeys in France and Italy. In those churches, by myself, they were churches first and foremost. I was impelled first to offer an act of worship, to pray, before I did the architectural tourist thing.

But here, in a group of my friends, it was sightseeing and rubbernecking all the way. It made no difference that Chrissie, Friedl, and Theo are all theological students, or that Pete, Anni, and Phoebe are or might soon be theological students’ spouses. The dynamic was totally different, and I couldn’t influence it in the least. Losing the sense of holiness was the price I had to give for having good company.

For lunch Friedl took us all to his theological college at the
University of Tübingen. We ate in the Mensa with the other students who were still hanging around in the vacation, and I had a cabbage dish (Kohl) which for the first time in my life I found appetizing and good.

I had to be getting on, since I’m pretty sure my train pass expires Friday and I’ve got a thing or two yet to see before then. So Friedl left the others at the Uni while he drove me and my luggage (already stowed in his trunk-- the bags, I mean!) back to Stuttgart. I insisted he didn’t have to park the car to carry my things into the Bahnhof for me, so I thanked him and we said our farewells at the curb.

Having stashed the bags in a locker, I got out my Stadtplan and found my way on foot to James Stirling’s Neue Staatsgalerie.

Something funny on the walk over. I was standing at a corner, waiting to cross, when the driver of the approaching car saw me and stopped to let me go ahead. If he’s a typical German driver, they’re the most polite I’ve encountered so far. In Paris it seemed like a challenge game-- if you could get the Parisian driver to meet your eye, he’d concede and you, the pedestrian, could pass. While in Oxford--!? They’re vicious. They won’t meet your eye if their lives depended on it. They won’t even stop if you’re in the crosswalk. I’ve had to jump back on the curb more than once at that corner at Parks Road. This here is much better!

The Staatsgalerie turned out to be a double delight, both for the art and even more for the architecture. I didn’t like the look of the building all that much when I saw it published in Architectural Record a few years ago. Seemed like Stirling was being gimmicky for the sake of being gimmicky. But now that I’ve seen it in person, I can see how its curves and dips, its ramps and its terraces and its striped stonework echo, reflect, and bow to the great vineyard-girdled Weinberg outside the city. The sun was out this afternoon, gelobt sei Gott! shining full on the mellow stonework. Duty became pleasure as I spent more time exploring and photographing the building as a building than I did actually looking at the exhibits.

I had to cut my visit shorter than I would have liked because I still had to catch the train for Frankfurt late this afternoon. Didn’t want to arrive too terribly late.

Returned to the Hauptbahnhof, retrieved my luggage, and checked the Departures board. Hurray! A train to Frankfurt-am-Main on Gleis 8 a little after 4:00 PM, ten minutes from now! Got out to the platform where the train was waiting, got on, and deposited myself and my luggage in a compartment otherwise occupied by three businessmen.

The train got on its way and after a little time, the conductor appeared to check our tickets. The businessmen presented theirs and I showed my EurailPass.

At once the conductor seemed to be asking me where I was going! I say "seemed" because of course he said it in German and it didn’t make sense-- after all, the EurailPass is good anywhere in continental Europe, why did he care where I was going?

He repeated the question and I guess I was looking pretty daft, because one of the businessmen said in English, "He wants to know where you are going."

"To Frankfurt," I told the conductor.

To which he replied something like, "Nein, nein, meine Fraulein! Das ist nichts die Zug zu Frankfurt, es ist die Zug zu Nürnberg!"

Between him and the English-speaking businessman I was given to know that not only was this the train for Nuremberg, Nuremberg was also about two and a half hours east of Frankfurt. Nein, nein, Fraulein, you do not want this train.

I was a little nonplussed-- I mean, how did he know I wasn’t a history student going to Nuremberg to study the famous Nazi war crimes trials right on the site? Besides, I hear they’ve got a very fine castle there, very worth seeing!

I suppose, though, that the conductor’s conviction that no tourist in her right mind would go to Nuremberg of her own volition served me well. I think day after tomorrow’s the last day on my rail pass, but I could be wrong, I haven’t counted lately. So I couldn’t exactly say, Hey, long as I’m on this train, I think I’ll go see Nürnberg anyway! I could return to Oxford on Saturday or Sunday if I liked, true, but it’d mean buying extra train tickets for the last legs. And more food and lodging. No. Can’t afford that.

The conductor saw that I was put down at the next stop, the first one out of Stuttgart, and pointed to the Gleis that would return me to the Hauptbahnhof where I could start over. It was a commuter rail station, starting to fill up with workers returning from their jobs in the city. I liked being there this sunny late winter afternoon. It was another view of the city and everyday German life, and as I waited for my train I could pretend I lived there and went through there every day, myself. Fun, like trying on someone else’s clothes for dress up.

Once I got back to the Hauptbahnhof, I again checked the Departures board. Oh, golly. There was my mistake. I’d read a 5 for an 8!

This time I made it to the correct Gleis and onto the correct train. The one I caught got me to Frankfurt after dark, sometime after 8:00 PM.

Picked up my bags and walked out the front entrance of the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to get my bearings. Standing there on the sidewalk looking into the darkness, it came over me how tired I was. No, I was not up to walking off into town (lugging the luggage) trying to find an interesting hotel from the Frommer guide. I turned around, went back in, and found the Tourist Information Desk.

Turns out Frankfurt is very full tonight. There’s some convention in town. But look, here is the Hotel Tourist just a few metres away from the Hauptbahnhof, for the equivalent of $40 US per night! Would I allow the Information clerk to book me in there?

Well, you know me. Confront me anything with the word "Tourist" in it and I run like hell the other way.

On the other hand, it was dark, it was late, it was trying to rain, I was in a strange city dark and late and in the rain, and I was tired. So I conceded and let him call.

Then having been shown on the Stadtplan where the
Hotel Tourist was, I shouldered my load, went down the street, presented myself at the check-in desk, and was shown to my room.

It could have been worse . . . I guess . . . the really annoying and awkward thing was that the heating was going full blast and there was no way to turn it down, and my room gave directly out onto the fire escape. How safe in case of fire! but I opened the window and looked out and saw that anybody could climb right up it. No ventilation stop on the window, either. So I had a choice between suffocating or burning up with the window closed and locked, or opening the window for relieving air and risk being invaded.

In the end I went to bed in my underpants and a sleeveless undershirt, cracked the window about four inches, and prayed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-nine

Tuesday, 3 January, 1989
Wien to Stuttgart to Karlsfelden*

WIEN-- Came down around 7:20 and asked the clerk at the desk if he could call me a cab. But it doesn’t work that way here. What you do, you leave your luggage in the lobby then walk up the street to the cabstand. You bring a cab back with you, or it brings you, rather, you pack in the luggage, and you’re off.

I checked the route to the West Bahnhof on the map last night and it seems to me that the cabbie took the scenic route today . . . He didn’t take a single major street until the very last. It wasn’t only the money I was worried about, it was the time.

But maybe he was trying to avoid rush-hour congestion. Made it with fifteen minutes to spare, which with a EurailPass is plenty. I suppose if I’d missed the 8:00 AM train I could’ve got the next one, that left at 10:00 or so, and stopped in Munich after all. But I’d pretty much decided not to do that and to go straight through to Stuttgart.

ON THE TRAIN-- It’s a long ride; but happily the sun was out and it was a nice day to gape out the window at the Austrian and German countryside.

Listened to my music on the headphones . . . while I was listening to my tape of Bach’s Wachet auf it came to me that it’s rather odd, that here I am, what you’d call a visual artist, but visual art doesn’t move me the way music does.

STUTTGART-- I probably shouldn’t’ve been, but I was surprised to see how Stuttgart is all bulwarked with great high hills, almost mountains, all terraced for vineyards.

It’s also surprising to find how bloody tired you can get, just sitting on your can for eight hours or so. Having disembarked, I lugged the bags downstairs from where the trains come into the Hauptbahnhof to a kind of subterranean shopping mall. Got to where the info place was supposed to be, and it turned out to be only a bulletin board. The place with informative people and maps and things was farther on down.


Stood in line and got my Stadtplan. But the Wechsel, the money changing place, was back up at the track level.


Hauled myself and my bags back up there, cashed in the rest of the Schillings and got some Marks in exchange for a traveller’s cheque. Made it known I wanted some loose change for the phone but the man said, No, you get that up on a mezzanine, at the post office branch.

Oh, God.

I picked up my luggage again, found the stairs, and arrived at the Bahnhof post office. Up there I stood and waited my turn in a nice long line. When I got to the guichet I encountered a clerk who, between his deficient English and my next-to-nonexistent German, only managed to communicate to me that you have to buy a card to use the payphones.

Oh, God damn!!

I just about lost it. I couldn’t help it, I started crying. Happily, the postal worker recognised the problem and sent me over to speak with a man with a bit more English.

He clarified that it was the long distance service phones, there in the room, that required the cards. The local call phones were out in the hall, and here was the change I required.


I called the number Friedhelm* gave me for his home and got his mother.

"Friedl is not here," she said in her charming accented English. "He is in town, at the Bahnhof. He will be back around 10:00. You call back then."

That seemed a little late to me, so I said, "Well, please tell him that Blogwen X--* called and that I am here in Stuttgart. He knows me from Coverdale*."

"Oh, Coverdale!" Friedl’s mother exclaimed. "He’s at the Bahnhof to pick up some people from Coverdale! They are from Canada, I think."

"Oh, Chrissie* and Pete*!"

"Yes, Chrissie and Pete. They are coming from Köln at 5:30 or 6:30, I don’t remember. They will come back here. You call in the evening."

I tried to make her understand that I was at the Bahnhof, too, but decided at last that it wasn’t important. For now I had a clear idea of what I could do. Signed off with Frau Schneider*, trotted the bags down to the lockers, stashed them, and headed for the nearest Arrivals chart to check for trains from Köln.

Ah, yes, here was one at 5:35. It was about 5:20 by now, so I remarked the Gleis number and went back to the trains.

I’d recognise that aqua and navy blue anorak anywhere. His back was turned to me and I came up behind and said brightly, "Guten Tag, Herr Schneider*!"

This is one of the smarter things I’ve done in awhile. He turned around, said, "Hello, Blogwen!" and gave me a hug. It was like a little homecoming.

Said Friedl, "Do you have a hotel yet?"

"Well, I was going to ask you if you know of any nice cheap ones."

"You come to us."

There it was, simple as that.

And guess what, not only were Chrissie and Pete expected any minute, but Theo Smyth* [a Coverdale student from South Africa] and his fianceé Phoebe* would be flying in from London this evening! Talk about Providence!

Chrissie and Pete were duly debouched from the Köln train and greetings exchanged all round. I collected my bags from the locker-- Friedl insisted on carrying the blue one-- and we went back down through the shopping mall thing and through to a parking garage, where Friedl packed us all into his car and we headed off to Karlsfelden*, where he lives.

KARLSFELDEN-- It was dark by now, if a very starry night, so I couldn’t tell you what the route looks like. But he lives with his parents in a garden-type apartment, very nice with a living room, kitchen and dinette, three bedrooms, and a bath.

His mother didn’t seem at all disconcerted to find she had an additional guest. She speaks much more English than his father, who basically just smiled and nodded and went back to his paper.

Their Christmas tree, standing in the living room, had both candles and electric lights on it. Kind of a compromise.

The plan was that Chrissie and Pete would stay over at Anni Breitbart’s*, Friedl’s girlfriend, and Theo and Phoebe, and now I, would sleep over at Friedl’s. So now we got back in the car and drove over to Anni’s, to talk and have supper until 9:00 PM and time for Friedl to fetch the South African contingent.

Anni’s mother had laid out the German version of charcuterie and once again, it was much better than in France. Anni, at my request, was helping me conjugate the German version of "to be" and pretty soon her father came and joined the festivities.

After supper we all sat in the living room and had a rather odd, but very effective conversation. Both Anni and Friedl have pretty good English, and her mother also. But Herr Breitbart’s English is next to nil. I have a smattering of literary German and Pete knows Dutch as well as English. So the talk was a kind of round robin of translating, with somehow or other everyone eventually coming to know what was being said.

Found out that Germans are as conscious of regional differences as Americans are (maybe more so!), and to humorous effect. Stuttgart, et al. is in Swabia, and you should have heard Friedl and Anni go after the Bavarians (Bayreusche [sp?] [Bayrische]) and the Hessians! I got the feeling that Bavarians are considered the hicks of the German people, and at any rate they have execrable accents. The controversy between the Hessians and the Swabians seems more to be over which of these groups, alone, speaks proper German.

Herr Breitbart is interested in music and showed me some sheet music pieces he’s working on (I’m not sure for what instrument). I told him I’m a Berlioz lover and that I’d visited the town where Hector was born. Somehow I knew the word for that was "geboren" and was very pleased when I discovered I was right and had got my idea across.

We stayed for awhile after Friedl left for the airport, then Anni took all of us back to Friedl’s place. To our surprise he was already there with Theo and Phoebe, sitting at the kitchen table eating a pizza. Their plane came in early.

I was too excited to do more than pick at a piece. We all sat up talking till nearly midnight.

Phoebe, I learned, flew up to England from the RSA just a week or so ago. Theo spent Christmas Day at Dunstan Oak’s* [one of the college tutors], where he and his family had assembled the Coverdale "orphans." Theo said the weather had been nice and sunny in England the past couple weeks. Very unlike France.

Anni, to whom Friedl is not engaged (at least not yet) took Chrissie and Pete away with her and we all eventually turned in. I shared a room with Phoebe but we didn’t really talk because it was so late and so much was planned for the morning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Living Exegesis

The other day, in my regular rota of Bible reading, the Old Testament passage happened to be Proverbs 3, which includes the verses

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

A couple days later, the Psalm selection was No. 37, which in part says

3Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4Delight yourself in the Lord
and he will give you the desires of your heart.


25I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

I've pursued my current plan of Bible reading since the year 2000 or so. So I've read these passages repeatedly the past nine and a half years. I've read them with openness, with edification, with acceptance.

But this past week when these verses came up, they evoked feelings of resentment, rejection, and fear.

For why?

Because given my situation in these economically-parlous times, they swept me back to the financially-strapped late '70s when I was subsisting as a newly-minted Bachelor of Architecture in the beautiful but heedless city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that town and that economy I was unemployed more often than not. Frequently I had no idea where money for groceries was coming from, let alone the rent for my studio apartment. And acquaintances from the church I was attending, people who knew the paucity of my resources, would bombard me with these verses. It was their way of "ministering" to me. These verses were supposed to make everything All Better.

But they didn't. They made me feel alienated, excluded, and condemned.

Why should they? I was a Christian, after all. They should have filled me with hope and confidence in the Lord. Was I just hard of heart? Maybe a little, yes. But there was more to my desolation than than that.

These verses fell flat because they came alone. They weren't accompanied by the exegesis of my acquaintances' lives. How these people related to me did nothing to show me the true meaning of these texts or to discover to me the goodness and grace of Almighty God. They were too busy to be my friends, to just sit around and talk about everyday stuff as we got to know one another. No, I'd have chapter and verse references given to me at the last minute at the end of a Bible study. Or I'd find the text scotch-taped to my apartment door with no sign that the visit was about anything else.

These people had not yet earned the right to drop random exhortatory verses on me. I wanted friends and conversation and relationships, and what I got was Proverbs and Psalms used like robot arms to keep me at a distance. I needed information and referrals and connections on possible jobs, and they gave me Biblical magic formulas about how if I was righteous and godly enough, the positions and pay would simply come.

It felt like what it says in the Letter from James,

2:15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James could have added "emotional needs" as well. There is a time and a place to feed a Christian brother or sister from the Word, but it must never come alone. It's possible that a non-believer can also gain comfort from a quotation from the Scriptures, but there it's even more crucial that it be accompanied by the exegesis of our lives.

I've been thinking since last week on how that living exegesis would "read," about the overall love and grace of a Christian friend's conduct that would guarantee that Scripture snippets were received as the comfort they were meant to be. I need to contemplate further before I could venture to say anything about it, but I know that sort of "love with skin on" is vitally essential.

By today, I can again read the Proverbs 3 and Psalm 37 passages and see and feel their assurance and hope. My upset last week wasn't really about the verses per se, it was frustration and anger at myself that here it is thirty years later and I'm again in the same stinky financial position. But that's a different subject, and going and doing something useful now might have go some ways towards maybe getting myself out of it . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-eight

Monday, 2 January, 1989

WIEN-- Got up for the Kaiser rolls and jam. I asked for my tee "ohne Milch" but apparently my accent is really lousy-- the waitress brought the pitcher anyway.

Caught the streetcar that heads southeast from the central part of the city, to the Zentral Friedhof. It goes along the Simmeringer Hauptstraße. I don’t know why, but it felt very homely, in a good sort of way, to see this other part of Vienna, as well as the touristed places. The buildings and shops reminded me of places in Kansas City, like along Troost (though not so rundown) or up at 63rd and Brookside. One thinks of all these people going about their lives here, where Vienna isn’t important because it’s a world-famous city, but because it’s where they live.

The object of the morning was another musical pilgrimage . . . Not as easy to accomplish as at the
Cimetiere au Montmartre. The Zentral Friedhof seems pretty orderly, in that there’s a monumental avenue leading from the entrance, to a great green-domed church. But as for finding anything . . . I asked a uniformed attendant, in my best fractured German, where Beethoven’s grave was located. He said, or at least I think he did, that it was along the first (or was it the second?) avenue "links" past where a white car was parked. All this in German, of course, so I wasn’t sure if I’d understood correctly.

The whole thing became moot, though, when the white car’s owner drove it away and I lost my point of reference before I got close enough to ascertain where it had been.

Went up and inspected the outside of the church and its flanking wings. There’s a kind of gallery along there, with memorial tablets along the wall. I wonder how one rates that, since I didn’t recognise any famous names.

One interesting feature near there is a plot set off for the graves of Red Army soldiers. It looked, from the dates, that these men hadn’t died in the war but rather were stationed here afterwards (as an army of occupation? Oops!) and it hadn’t been possible to ship their bodies back to Russia. The really sad thing was the near-certainty that most if not all of these men would’ve died as atheists. What a terrible thing, to have no hope!

I knew Beethoven’s grave was supposed to be east of the church, so I tried again to ask someone. Seems they should have section numbers or something. And I think they do, except my German isn’t anywhere close to being able to understand numbers (except for "zwanzig"-- 20-- on the streetcars when they call out the stops. I’ve gotten really good at that). And I could not make the man understand my request to write the number of the row and section down. So I was in for another hour or so of blind wandering.

Found Arnold Schönberg’s grave, though. It’s kind of a Cubist marble monument, very apt. And I came across
Josef Hoffmann’s. He and his wife Karoline have a plain tall shaft with their names and dates inscribed in tall gothic lettering.

Finally, after more blundering about, I found what I was looking for. They have a kind of musicians’ Poets’ Corner there, with Brahms, a Strauss or two, little Franz Schubert, and Beethoven all interred in kind of a horseshoe arrangement, with a monument to poor Mozart in the center. Von Suppe had sneaked into the formation, too, though how I don’t know.

I’d been wondering if I should’ve brought Beethoven some flowers but I saw that plenty of other people had adequately supplied the gesture. And it really wasn’t the same as it was at Montmartre. Here, with Beethoven, I was paying my respects to a great man who lived a long time ago. But there, with Hector, it was like visiting the tomb of a dear and sorely-missed friend.

A gaggle of Japanese tourists were marshalled through as I stood in the little clearing. They disturbed my contemplations to a degree, but not to the extent they would’ve with Hector in Paris.

I sang "An die Musik" for Franz. But other than that, I hadn’t much time to tarry. Though I’d arrived at the Friedhof around 10:00 AM it was nearly 12:30 by now, and my Wien transport pass had expired at 12:00. And I still hadn’t figured out how or to whom pay paid your streetcar fare if you were using money.

So feeling rather guilty about it, I bootlegged the streetcar ride back to the Ring. Wasn’t made any more comfortable by the stickers in the windows that said, in German I could understand, that the transport inspectors would be around checking passes today and that yours had better be in order. I suppose I could’ve put some money in the little box, but I didn’t have the correct change and was feeling too straitened to overpay.

So I sat tight, deciding that those stickers probably are on the streetcar windows all the time-- I can’t see them sticking them on and scraping them all off just for one day’s worth of warning.

However it is, as soon as I got back to the Schwarzenberg Platz I walked down to the Stadtpark station and bought a fresh two-day transit pass. And the fact that I’ll only be able to use one day of it should amply make up for my contraband trip of the past half hour.

Went back to shoot a picture of the Konzert Haus where I heard the Beethoven last night, but returned to the Stadtpark U-Bahn station to catch the train for Heiligenstadt. One might suppose I was going to see the house where Beethoven wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, and someday perhaps I shall. But the afternoon was to be devoted to Architecture, specifically Hoffmann’s Sonja Knips house.

Heiligenstadt is the end of the line. I made myself a satisfying and highly nutritious lunch of pastries there in the station, then set out to find Nußwaldgasse.

Very near the station is a housing project which interested me for a number of reasons, most all connected with its name. It’s called the Karl Marx-Hof (!) and has all these heroic Soviet-Realism-style statues over the major entrances. The amusing thing is that these figures are still enchained. The other irony was that, in the wide front garden of this memorial to the progenitor of Communism, two small boys, on this second day of January, were playing the good old American game of baseball. It was great.

To get to the
Sonja Knips house you have a good long pull up the Barawitzka street before Nußwaldgasse veers off to the left. One can’t go into the house, of course, it being a private residence. But the gray exterior is all studded with a regular pattern of diamond-shaped castings, which look as if they should be structural, like the star-shaped tie rod heads on houses in Lawrence. Probably aren’t, though. These are set off by the diagonal mullions in the windows and the diamond coursing of the slates on the roof and the three chimneys. It’s deceptively simple but rife with subtle details like the scooped-in embrasures of the windows.

I managed to catch a bus back down to the station but had no intention of getting the train back just yet. Something important to do first. Made my way down the very warehousey-looking Mooslacken street to the Nußdorfer Lande, which runs along the Donau Kanal.

But canals don’t make it. I wanted the real river. And after awhile of getting mucked up in a small spaghetti-bowl of an interchange I found myself on the Nordbrücke, crossing the actual
schöne blaue Donau.

There’s a lovely view of the church on the Kahlenberg from there. And I’ll have you know that in this afternoon’s bright sunny weather the Danube really was blue, if with a slight grayish tinge to it.

The river there splits into two parallel streams, with a long narrow island or something between. There’s a way down to it from the bridge, so you can stroll along the paths as many others were. It was so nice to see the people out enjoying their river on this bright January day: This taking, in the case of some young boys, the form of skateboarding (on their tails) down the smooth pavement.

I walked along the river awhile myself, admiring the fishing boats and the ducks and the views of the city far away to the south. I sometimes wonder what sort of travelling companion I’d be: I’m such a fiend for rivers and tops of towers and hills and things. Would anyone else understand? But it seems to me that if you’ve got a town on a famous river, you haven’t been there properly until you’ve visited the river as well.

Left there around 4:30 and caught the train back to the city. Changed at Schwedenplatz and ended up once more at the Stephensdom. You should see the absurdity that Hans Holler is putting up opposite it on the Platz. It’s called the Haas Haus (Rabbit Hotel?) and looks like a series of cans with their lids half off. Took a picture for Myron Davidman’s* [architectural employer back in the States] benefit.

Near there is a shop that sells some Wienerwerkstätte type things; I bought a deck of cards in that style as a Christmas present for Lynne* [my elder sister].

I saw a coffee mug at a shop along my route to Beethoven’s flat on the Mölkier Bastei the other day, one I thought might be fun to get for Daddy. Went back now but that shop was closed. But as long as I was along there, I stopped at one bakery-deli for something to do for supper, then went to Julius Meinl’s to stock up on bread and cheese and other provisions for the long train ride tomorrow. Stuck it on my Visa and probably spent a fortune.

Though I was cutting it close I tarried in the Opernpassage trying to find the shop where I saw those needlepoint-topped pill boxes. I thought it’d be a nice gift for Janie* [friend who was subleasing my Kansas City apartment]. But I couldn’t find the place again. Gave it up and dashed back to the hotel to change for the opera.

Wiener Volksoper is the Viennese equivalent of Kansas City’s Lyric, meaning the works are done in the local vernacular; in this case, Deutsch. German, Italian-- in the case of Don Giovanni, it made no difference to me, especially as I’ve heard it in English at the Lyric and basically know the plot.

As I approached the theatre along with many others, I heard a boy of eight or nine a little way ahead of me notice the posters and cry out to his parents something like, "Oh, gut! Ist Don Giovanni!" I couldn’t tell if he was glad it was that opera in particular or if he was simply relieved to see the play was going on as advertised. Either way, it was charming to see the child’s enthusiasm.

I had been told day before yesterday that I’d been sold the last seat in the house. And now I could see why. It was a little stool in the corner of one of the stage right boxes. To see anything at all I had to balance on the very edge of my stool and crane my neck around the lefthand frame of the box. The other people there had real chairs.

But I noticed that there were plenty of empty seats in the balcony center and resolved to employ a little of my
Folly Theatre ushering chutzpah during intermission and move.

It’s really hard not to compare this performance with the one I saw at the Lyric in ’79, so why try? In that one, Stanley Wexler played the Don as an overwhelmingly attractive cuss, the kind of man who wouldn’t need to seduce women, he’d have them lining up in the street of their own volition. The Giovanni tonight, a Boje Skovhus, played the role as a dark-minded cynic. You got the idea he seduced women not for the physical pleasure of it but for the vile sake of dehumanising them and messing up their lives. A valid approach, and I don’t think it was to blame for the fact that the performance of the ensemble as a whole never did catch fire. It all seemed rather secondhand.

There were some interesting pieces of business, though-- e.g., Giovanni and Leporello escaped from the avengers at the party by lowering a ladder into the orchestra pit, scrambling over the musicians, and out the other side. And they came back the same way, ladder and all, at the start of Act II. The backlit scene at the graveyard was very effective (and yes, I could see it decently since I did move between the acts). And Giovanni slid into Hell on his own supper table, which went into the depths with him.

I noticed that, as with last night, people were taking pictures all over. So I ventured to follow suit, not using a flash, of course, and waiting for loud portions of the music to cover the shutter noise.

Afterwards, it was truly a strange sensation, standing at the streetcar stop, waiting there at the Währinger Gurtel for the #40 streetcar to take me back to the U-Bahn at Schottentor . . . and over the street one could see signs directing drivers to the highways for Budapest, Prague (Praha), and Brno . . . my God, those cities are all in Warsaw Pact countries! Am I really that far east?† It seemed very mysterious and exotic, as if I were brushing shoulders with something I hadn’t quite believed in up to now. But those cities certainly exist and could be announced by something as straightforward and prosaic as blue and white highway signs!

Back at the hotel, the idea was to get packed up and in bed as soon as possible. 8:00 AM train out of the West Bahnhof tomorrow.
†Yes, I'm aware now that my geography was shaky and that Czechoslovakia (as it was called then) is just to the north of Austria. But the point is the same.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-seven

Sunday, 1 January, 1989
New Year’s Day

WIEN, HOTEL DREI KÖNIGE-- I was rather surprised this morning that I was awake in good enough time to make it to church, and that I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite only having been in bed for four hours or so. So I got up and put on the dark gray dress I should’ve worn last night (thanks again, Rollo*) and beat it up towards the

Turns out I could have saved time by taking the U-Bahn but I’d forgotten there was a stop close to the Stephensdom. So I hoofed it and got there a fuzz late and had to sit way back. But at least I could sit. Lots of people there.

They were nice enough to provide song sheets for the responses, so I was able to participate to a decent extent in that, even in German. Still, it would be nice . . .

Went and found some breakfast afterwards at the Aida Konditorei. Very crowded, but I got a sausage roll and a pastry and found a place at a stand up counter whereat to eat them.

After that it was back to the Schleifmühlgasse and the Hotel der Drei Könige.

Changed into my gray flannels, oxford shirt, and sweater; took my camera (Minolta) and headed back out. To be perfectly honest I would just as soon have gone back to bed-- the weather was pretty overcast and gray anyway-- but considering how little time I have here I whipped myself into action.

Paid my respects to Schiller at the Schillerplatz in front of the Kunstakademie, along the Elisabethstraße. But my object was the Kunsthistorische Museum a bit further to the west. Got there and yes, just as I’d feared, the place was closed for New Year’s, like everything else, practically. I didn’t feel quite as dumb as I could’ve, when I saw some other people, who looked like locals, going up and unsuccessfully trying the doors. I wasn’t the only over-optimistic idiot!

So I diddled back to the Opera, looking in store windows, including one of a lighting store (closed, of course) that had some really nice modern type fixtures. Myron’s* office would probably be interested to know if there’s anything there that can be had in the States.

Something that’s to be had here is Mozartkugeln and the shops selling that sort of thing were open. Shopped around and found a good deal on a box of eighteen on Tegetthoffgasse. I learned there’s more than one kind. Amazing. There’s the Salzburger kind and the Wiener kind. The Salzburger kind are cheaper. I shall have lots for tea parties at Coverdale*.

I’d shot out the rest of the film by then and hadn’t brought more with me. So it was as good a time as any to find something to eat, even though it was only around 4:00.

Ended up at a place that was nice in that it seemed aimed at the locals. Menu all in German and German language newspapers hanging on poles for people to read. The trouble is, I hadn’t brought my little German-English dictionary. I didn’t want it for the papers, no, but for the menu.

I should’ve been ok. Should’ve. I hate sauerkraut, can’t abide the stuff, and so I ordered a meal that didn’t include it, but rather Linsen, which I was pretty sure was lentils.

But when the meal came the waiter (who also seemed to be the proprietor) brought sauerkraut! And then pretty much disappeared. And without the dictionary to make sure, I didn’t feel confident in complaining. So the bowl of kraut just sat there untouched.

Had a bottle of beer with it all. Funny, but by the label it appeared to be the original Budweiser brand, from Budwar, Czechoslovakia. Similar logo and everything.

Didn’t say anything about the kraut when I paid. The cashier was different and didn’t seem to speak English.

Trotted back to the hotel and got back into my gray dress for the Beethoven concert. Decided this’d be a great time to inaugurate the burgundy red purse I bought in Florence a couple-three days ago.

Well, sort of. It started spitting rain as soon as I left the hotel and now the front of the bag has all these charming raised spots on it. Lovely.

The Ninth was being done at the Wiener Konzerthaus on the Lothringerstraße, and I took the U-Bahn the short hop from Karlsplatz to Stadtpark. Lots of other people were making their way to the concert hall, too, and I was glad I had my ticket already.

It seemed like the coat check facilities were just acres of tables in the main lobby. More than one piece was extra so I economised, so to speak, by stuffing my sweater and my scarf up the sleeves of my coat.

From the numbers on my ticket I was pretty sure I was in the balcony. And besides, that’s where I was directed by an usher. But when I got up there, I found there was no such seat. Finally I figured out that my seat was in the second row of a bank of chairs that ran parallel to the sides of
the hall on the main floor, perpendicular to the orchestra seating. This meant my view of the stage was a little oblique, but not anything you could call bad.

The hall was packed for tonight’s performance, which featured the Wiener Symphoniker and the Wiener Singakademie under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, with Brigette Pascher-Klebel, soprano, Margarita Lilowa, alto, Robert Schunk, tenor, and Robert Lloyd (a Brit!), bass.

De Burgos didn’t purport to do anything new or clever, as Whatsisname (Glenn Block?) did at UMKC a few years ago. The performance was great because it was Beethoven’s Ninth. Conversely, it could’ve used more heart or something . . .

Oh, well. Most of the people there thought it was standing ovation material.

The rain had stopped when the concert let out. And I was not hailed by any Egyptian newspaper vendors during my walk from Karlsplatz back to the Schleifmühlgasse.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lost in the Digital Ewigkeit

Over the course of my erratic ministry career I've written several skits and plays for youth Sunday school classes, both for performance and to illustrate lessons. It seemed to me that the scripts might be useful to other pastors and Christian educators (not to mention that it would be nice to make a shekel or two out of them), but how to get them published? I have a friend with a close relative who works for Group Publishing, but she tells me they don't accept work over the transom. What's a poor, unknown playlet-wright to do?

But now, thanks to Whiskers over at Tales of a Searching Kitteh I've been introduced to, an online self-publishing site. Seems simple and straightforward. I could do up a little booklet, market it to my clergy friends via Facebook, and get my toe in the door.

Here's the catch: Since last April, the material is here-- but not. It was all saved on an external hard drive which inexplicably chose the same time as my computer to crash. Don't think it got infected with the same trojan; it just gave up the ghost. They tell me at Staples that I can send the drive to the manufacturer who can open it up and recover the data . . . for around $1,500.00. You must be kidding. We aren't exactly talking military secrets here.

Well, I thought, I did back ups in the past to floppy disk (remember those?) and CDs. Those should cover pretty much everything.

But yesterday I looked, and though I can find diskettes labeled "Sermons," "Worship," "Business," "Essays," and so on, I can not lay hands on the ones that should be there labeled "Christian Education."

OK, what about those CDs? Hummph. When you get past the annoyance that the stupid Retrieve facility wouldn't work and I had to spend hours yesterday chasing from disk to disk to locate and copy my files onto my hard drive, I found that-- inexplicably again-- they contained only a limited number of my word processing files, and no plays and skits at all.

I'm telling myself not to panic. I have hard copies of some or all of these plays in the back of a certain file drawer. Once I dig them out I could scan them in via the OCR program and just redo the formatting as required. I mean, they're supposed to be back there; I'll look as soon as I've moved the computer stand so I can get the drawer open far enough to see. Not tonight.

Ironic, though, that the very files that would have been most useful for me to recover are the ones I don't have. It makes me wonder: Is this a Sign for me to give up this publishing idea as a bad job? Or is it a cosmic query as to How Badly Do I Want to Do This Thing?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-six

Saturday, 31 December, 1988
New Year’s Eve/Silvesterabend

HOTEL DREI KÖNIGE-- Didn’t get up as early as I perhaps should’ve, but the body refused.

Had the included breakfast in the hotel Speisezimmer. Kaiser rolls with butter and jam. This is odd. I never would have thought of Kaiser rolls for breakfast.

Lost a good half hour at the hotel desk waiting for the clerk to get off the phone. I needed to recover my passport and ask a question or two. For my patience he gave me a piece of the chocolate New Year’s gelt he was playing with.

Up the street and bought a bottle of sparkling wine for tonight’s party, as Rollo* had requested. Had to be done now since the stores would be closing early today. Also got a little jar of my traditional pickled herring.

Dropped that back off at the room then went to the Opernpassage to see about music tickets. Came away with one for Beethoven’s Ninth at the Konzert Haus tomorrow (not cheap. Close to $30 maybe) and one to Mozart’s Don Giovanni for Monday. Got about the last tickets.

Even so, I’m sorry these necessary errands kept me from seeing the Lippizaner rehearsal this morning. It was the last one for the season.

It was funny dealing with the girl at the counter, though. She wanted to work on her English and I on my German, so she'd speak to me in English and I'd reply in German and somehow, it worked!

I didn’t like the exchange rate at the info office nor the fee so since I was going over there anyway for Otto Wagner’s sake, I rode to Schwedensplatz and walked to the main post office, which was the only one open today. Stood in a nice long line then had it turn out that their rate wasn’t much better. Too late now. Bought some stamps, too.

Not as fine a day as yesterday but the sun was trying to come out. Made a decent effort to shine a little as I photographed the Postsparkasse exterior.

Blundered my way over to the Stephensplatz. The area around the cathedral was pretty well populated. I was starting to get hungry but the Konditorei were so crowded you could hardly squeeze in. Anyway, I’d noticed a sign pointing the way to the house where Mozart wrote Marriage of Figaro and I thought I’d better check its opening hours, before I took the time to feed my face.

Good thing I checked. It was 3:15 by now and the house was only open till 4:30, and it wouldn’t be open tomorrow or Monday.

I suppose it can’t be helped, but the place is kept as a museum, alone. There isn’t even as much furniture as there is at Berlioz’s birth house, just display cases with artifacts and things hanging on the walls. Many of the latter were silhouettes, drawings, or paintings of people who I must assume had some influence on Mozart’s life and work. But not knowing that many details thereof I wasn’t particularly edified by these exhibits. There was one room that I really think must’ve been the kitchen . . . that came closest to helping me get a feeling of Mozart actually having lived there.

All the Vienna-based composers’ residences are administered by one authority, and I saw from a poster that Beethoven’s most frequent domicile, the Pasqualati House on the Mölker Bastei, was also open only today, till 4:30. So I bade Wolfgang farewell and hurried over there.

There’s more of Beethoven himself there, more of his furniture and possessions, and more paintings and sculptures of the man done in his lifetime. And I could see the good views he had to the west, though thankfully he never had to look at the modern monstrousity now standing across the street. But still, it was merely an intellectual exercise remembering that he wrote Fidelio and the Violin Concerto there.

It wasn’t till I was heading back down the stairs from the 4th floor† apartment that it hit me with a shock that he, Ludwig von Beethoven, actually had lived here, he had walked in this narrow space, on these winding steps, had seen and probably touched these plastered walls-- Gott in Himmel!

Retraced my steps to the Stephensdom, trying to find something to eat. On der Graben I bought a cone of roasted chestnuts, the first I’ve had, to shut my stomach up. They’re really more like a vegetable than a nut in taste, but I liked them well enough. And they were good and warm.

Finding dinner tonight was a bit difficult. Seemed as if all the places that looked appetizing or inexpensive enough (and also the ones that didn’t) were getting ready for the Silvester parties and not serving walk-ins. I finally settled for a wurst on a roll off a stand in the Kärtnerstrasse and then went and sat down in the Konditorei next door and had me a piece of Sachertorte mit Schlag.

You know what? It wasn’t as marvellous as I’d expected. It was rather dry, not tremendously flavorful, and left me yearning for another piece of that wonderful chocolate torte I had in Paris.

The Kärtnerstrasse and indeed the whole area south of the Stephensplatz was teeming with people. There were even some street evangelists. And down by the Staatsoper a couple of guys had a drag race off the stoplight. Some things know no boundaries . . .

Back at the hotel I read a bit of the Beethoven booklet I’d bought and ate pickled herring til time to dress and catch the U-Bahn to Rollo’s mother’s. Heading for the Karlsplatz I wondered what it’d be like coming back after midnight. The streets between there and the Schleifmühlgasse aren’t as lively as I’d like after dark; tonight would they be too lively?

When I got to Rollo’s mother’s place, I could’ve shot her elder son! He hadn’t told me what to wear and there I was in my gray flannels, silk blouse, green Shetland sweater, and red and black suede hiking boots, while everyone else, including Rollo, was in semi-formal party clothes. It was really a sight to see him in a smoking jacket. I didn’t mind so much what I had on; it’s just that I get so few chances to dress up and had a perfectly good dress with me.‡

Besides Rollo and Connie* [Rollo's wife] and his mother, there was Rollo’s brother, Marko* (who seems to have some slight mental or other functional handicap), and several of Frau Schipfner’s* middle aged to elderly friends. All or most of them spoke at least a little English, which made me feel better about trying out my German.

We started out with aperatifs; I had Rollo pour me a Campari and soda because I was curious to taste what it was like. But it’s rather bitter and I didn’t drink much of it.

When I saw the dining room table I realized it had been silly of me to go looking for something to eat earlier. As seems customary in this part of the world, the fare was sliced meats and various sorts of pasta salad, and a great deal of it.

On each plate was a little good luck token. I was informed by the woman on my left that I must immediately take and put it in my purse and thus assure I’d have plenty of money all year. Can’t hurt, I guess . . .

On the table were little figures of chimney sweeps and pigs, and the napkins were printed with these and with four-leafed clovers, all symbols of luck and prosperity. I’d wondered what all those stalls were, downtown, but now I saw the Viennese wouldn’t consider a Silvesterabendtafel complete without these favors.

A toast was drunk before the meal, the woman on my left looking at me and pledging, "To your honeymoon." Does she know something I don’t? I thought for a moment she was really addressing Rollo, on my right, but that’s impossible: he and Connie have been married three years.

In the table talk I learned that the obnoxious newspaper vendor is probably Egyptian, since most are and the Turks aren’t advanced enough socially to take such jobs. And that Sachertorte generally is dry, which is why you need the whipped cream.

Unlike in Switzerland, I could at least tell what the German conversation was about, even if I couldn’t discern the tenor of the comments. I commented on this to the lady on my left, she laughed, and that started a general raillery against what these Hoch Deutsch speakers called "Sweetzer Dootsh," or some such teasing appellation. Still being angry at Lukas’s* uncalled-for extension of his performance in that dialect last week, I took a rather unChristian pleasure in hearing it mocked.

When it came time for dessert everyone got up from the table and adjourned back to the living room. Rollo and Connie and Marko shut themselves into the kitchen for a smoke and to get things ready, while Frau Schipfner cleared away. When dessert was put on, she started herding people back into the dining room, and I said, "Ja, wir kommen! Wir kommen augenblicklich!"

"Oh, you speak German very well!" she exclaimed.

(Thank you, Ludwig von Beethoven.††)

By the time dessert was finished, it was about fifteen till midnight. Back in the living room, the champagne (or rather, Austrian Halb-süß) was broken open and glasses filled. They turned the TV on; it was an ice show being broadcast from here in Vienna, but when the skaters did a routine to the song "One" from A Chorus Line, it was sung in English. I thought of Nigel*-- it was inevitable.

Then the time came and the great dial on the screen ticked off the seconds: "Zehn, neun, acht, sieben, sechs, fünf, vier, drei, zwei, eins-- Prosit Neue Jahr!"

At least, that’s what was being shouted by all and sundry as the wine glasses clinked and the sparkling drunk down. As for me, I was praying blessings on a certain Englishman, who despite his very taken (if not engaged) state, still can make any new year worth entering.

Meanwhile, on the screen was a little animation number of champagne corks dancing to a Strauss waltz. Cute.

Rollo and Marko got out the fireworks and went out on the balcony to shoot them off. The skies had cleared and all over this suburb of Vienna the heavens were blazing with the trails of rockets and shooting stars making merry war with their repeated noise. The neighbors downstairs came out to shoot theirs and shouted up, "Prosit Neue Jahr!"

We came back in and drank some more ersazt champagne (I’m glad I tasted the real thing on Christmas. It is better) and conversed. I asked Connie if women in the Midwest were wearing big shawls, as they do in England. She said yes, they were.

Around 2:00 AM we ate again, going back to the dining room for soup. I think I ate more tonight than I have in entire weeks on this trip.

About 3:00 everyone decided it was time to shove off home. Rollo’s mother earlier had said it was best I go home in a taxi and not risk the Viennese lager louts at the Karlsplatz U-Bahn station. But one of the ladies said they could cram me into her car, despite the fact they already had six full-grown adults booked to ride in it-- "We’ll pretend you’re a baby. It’s not legal to have more than six adults, but a baby is all right."

So everyone said their goodbyes and final New Year’s wishes to Frau Schipfner. But before I went I asked Rollo to please tell me, quickly, about the office. . . .

[Here ensued some architectural shop talk interesting to me at the time but not relevant to the occasion.]
It was jolly crowded in that car, which was only a mid-sized VW. Never mind me, I think one of the old men had regressed in age. I can see that he might be more comfortable with his arm stretched across the back of the seat, but squeezing my shoulder while he was at it really was not required. Nothing threatening, but I was glad when we dropped him and his wife (yes!) off at their flat near the Schönbrunn Palace.

It was nearly 4:00 AM when I was dropped off at the hotel. I didn’t go to sleep immediately. I’ve decided to revive my Song for the Year custom; for 1989 it’s to be "An die Müsik"; and while I was running my Schubert tape back to listen to it, I thought about the Waldstein Sonata and how I couldn’t recall the Rondo theme at the Beethoven house, getting it mixed up with that of that Opus Posthumous piano trio movement. I listened to the Waldstein Rondo, too, therefore, and see that recall is all in the opening intervals-- the OP starts in an ascending minor second, the Waldstein on a melodic unison. I tried it a few times and it works like a charm.

Anyway, that’s only more or less relevant to what I’ve chosen for 1989, and no unattainable men are in it:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Studen,
wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt,
in eine beßre Welt entrückt!

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harpf entflossen,
ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir,
den Himmel beßre Zeiten mir erschlossen,
du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür,
du holde Kunst, ich danke dir!

†By European reckoning; 5th floor by American.
‡As I'd known him in the States, Rollo did the European casual look straight down the line. I'd never seen him in anything other than a long ponytail, an open-necked shirt, and Birkenstock sandals with heavy socks. He wouldn't condescend to wear a suit and tie, not even for a client meeting at our architecture office. So I'd figured it'd be the same here in Vienna!
††"We're coming! Yes, we're coming in the blink of an eye!"-- a handy phrase I'd memorized from the spoken dialogue of Beethoven's opera Fidelio.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour, Day Twenty-five

Reinspired (and shamed) by Whisker's accounts of her recent trip to Paris, and having decided that this evening is shot for patching holes in woodwork anyway, I've typed up another day's worth of my Europe '88-'89 journal and now post it here.

When we last saw our heroine, she was dozing late at night in a First Class compartment of the Venice-Vienna train and had just crossed over into Austria . . .

Friday, 30 December, 1988

Sleeping sitting up is fun. But doing so in the 2nd class car would’ve been even more entertaining.

To Wien by 7:00 AM. Usual activities at the station-- get some Austrian coins, change for the remaining Italian bills, a public transportation pass, and a map of the city at the information office; find a locker and stash my stuff in; find a john and decide in this case I had to swallow my pride and pay the money, though I’m customarily against that sort of thing. Then I consulted the map and headed for the city to find a hotel.

Going out the door of the station I had my perfect record broken. A Turk or some other Middle Eastern type at the door offered to sell me a newspaper and, when he noticed my German wasn’t up to par, said, in English, "Oh, you are a visitor! American?"

What did I do wrong?

But the day promised to be clear and beautiful, so I wasn’t too devastated. Walked up Prinz Eugenstrasse towards the inner city ring, then over to the west a bit, to around Margaretenstrasse, to find the Pensionen [rooms to let] described in the Frommer.

Well. Of the three in that general area, one was booked up and I couldn’t find the other two. Around 8:30 I had some tea and rolls in a nearby Konditorei [pastry shop] and endeavored to recruit my strength. Walked around some more after that looking for a place to stay but couldn’t locate anything that looked like I could afford it. I was too tired to mess with it so I decided to go to the reservation bureau at the Opernpassage.

On the way there I came across one of the reasons I came to Wien-- J. M. Olbrich’s Seccession building. The sun was shining on the closed coppery-bronze doors and the gilding on the facade and the dome and it looked just lovely.

Out of the confusion and crush at the reservation office and despite my limited German I emerged with a room at the Hotel Drei Könige (appropriate for this time of year, I think!) on Schleifmühlgasse (near where I’d been looking before) for ÖS 440, with shower. A job for the Visa card again.

Back to the Südbahnhof (this time by U-Bahn) for my bags, but I couldn’t recall where my locker was. Another Middle Eastern type, this one more middle class looking in a suit and tie, asked me what I was looking for. I told him, he directed me to the right spot, but then thought this entitled him to invite me out for a drink. Nein, nein, danke. Had to tell him two or three times before he got the point.

Busses to the hotel. (Wien’s Underground isn’t as extensive as Paris’s.) The entrance is nice enough, leaded glass in the door and a clerk on duty at the desk, but the room is the usual monastery cell. It has an outside window, though.

The desk clerk said they had to keep my passport at the desk. That’s a first.

I did a little better than I did in Paris. Changed my clothes and did not sit staring catatonically at the walls. Instead, took my camera and blundered my way back to the Secession building, where for the first time I was able to use my International Student ID to get a discount on the admission.

I was amused to see Rollo’s*† model of the building put together and stuck up on the wall in the entrance lobby.

The current exhibits are all new work except for Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze downstairs. There were some colossally-sized mezzotints upstairs that are abstract in format but which can’t help but be interpreted as having cosmotological implications. There were some things about them that made me consider what needs to be done for my Quid Sum Miser painting-- which needs to be executed, along with the rest of the Requiem series,‡ no way around it.

There was some deconstructivist work, arranged piles of broken concrete blocks and such, in another room. I think it was supposed to be a commentary on the destruction of WWII.

I have to confess I had never heard of Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, now restored and remounted in the room downstairs. And at first I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with Beethoven, though when I saw it I remembered seeing some of the figures. But I found out it was done for the exhibition of Max Klinger’s Beethoven statue and is Klimt’s interpretation of the music and text of the Ninth Symphony.

The sketches were displayed in a case in the center of the room and I really think that in some cases the sketches are better than the finished paintings.

Especially the one for "Dieses Küss für ganzen Welt" ["This kiss for the whole world]. Klimt’s interpretation of that phrase is not at all what I would have chosen, as I don’t see Schiller talking about that sort of privatized man-woman love, but something much broader and all-encompassing. But since Klimt chose to express the idea with the former image, I do say that in the painting his lovers are rather stiff and uncomfortable-looking. The embrace in the sketch is much more fluid and free and poetic.

My favorite part of the frieze is the one entitled "Die Sehnsucht nach Glücklich findet Stillung im Poesie" ["The yearning for happiness finds surcease in poetry"]. Do you think so? I hope it. At least I have to try . . .

Back in the entry foyer I purchased the usual lot of postcards and a book, in English, that tells where all the Secessionist/Jungenstil works are located in Vienna. I asked the girl at the cash desk how sales were going on Rollo’s model. She said, not so great, actually . . . Me, I think he needs better color on the thing. It’s rather washed out and boring as it is.

Hungry, so after I left there I went across to a booth in the Nasch Markt and had two open-faced sandwiches, herring and black caviar. Isn’t that a kill? A 90¢ caviar sandwich.

While I was eating there I read in my new book that Otto Wagner’s Majolica House was not too far away, down the Linke Wienzeile, so I went down to look before the light faded. The buildings have been nicely kept up and it was a wonderful thing to find them there in the middle of everything, as a real apartment residences, and not just as illustrations in an art book.

Back down through the Nasch Markt but didn’t buy anything. Went on to Karlsplatz and took the U-Bahn over to Schwedensplatz, to find Wagner’s Postal Savings Bank (Postsparkasse), which is in that neighborhood. By the time I did it was getting pretty dark so I’ll have to come back to really get a look at it.

Wandered over and looked at the Donau Kanal with the city lights reflected in it, then caught the subway back to Karlsplatz.

Stopped at a grocery store in the Wiedner Hauptstrasse for some shampoo and also picked up some crackers that turn out to be like Carr’s wheatmeal biscuits and some positively decadent chocolate meringue things, that I must stop inhaling.

Crossing the street after leaving the store, I noticed a couple of Middle Eastern newsvendors standing on the corner. And one of them-- I'm thinking the same one who spoke to me this morning at the train station-- saw me and called out, "Eh, Americana!"

Rats! When it comes it comes with a vengeance, doesn’t it?

At the hotel in the lobby, the desk clerk asked what my plans were for New Year’s Eve (Silvesterabend), because the hotel had a package tour to Grinzing for ÖS 650, all inclusive. But if I wanted to be in on it I had to reserve a place within the next half hour.

Oh. That meant this was a good time to pay my respects to Rollo Schipfner’s mother. Maybe she might have some suggestions. So using the phone at the desk, I dialled her number.

Well. This is a surprise. Rollo and Connie†† are here, in Wien, even as we speak. Frau Schipfner put Rollo on and as we were trying to figure out when we might be able to get together, his mother suggested I come to her house tomorrow night for the New Year's Eve get together she was having with Rollo and Connie and a few of her friends. This sounded better than going drinking with a bunch of total strangers so I accepted the kind invitation and got directions about the U-Bahn and tram from Rollo.

Just before we rang off, he suggested I go over to the Staatsoper tonight and try to get a standing room ticket to Lucia di Lammermoor. But there was no way. Nervous energy lasts only so long. I was falling asleep on top of my Vienna 1900 guidebook. I roused myself long enough to redo my fingernails but that was it. I’m gone.

†The man I'm calling Rollo Schipfner was a twenty-something Vienna native and architect then living in the States. Up to the time I'd left Kansas City for my Oxford sabbatical year, we'd worked at the same architecture firm. Before he'd left Austria he'd designed a model kit of the Secession Building (der Goldener Kohl) and they had it for sale there.
‡A projected series of ten oil paintings I had since college planned to do on the movements of the Berlioz Requiem. Alas, in all these years I've only finished the first one.
††Rollo's American wife.

Blog Housekeeping

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. Too busy with house reno and house bloggery. And Facebook, oh, my!

I've added the Blog Following List widget just now, and soon as I can, I'll move the rest of the blogs to it from the Linky List.