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.

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