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.


Marlene said...

Glad you're back with the tour. I can so relate to the feeling of visiting a historic place and suddenly realizing "they" walked here, "they" touched here, etc. I can almost feel them there.

St. Blogwen said...

Yes, and in that stairwell you couldn't avoid it. Beethoven passed through this air . . .

I read someplace that he thought it was a good joke to make his guests walk up all those flights, especially stout people like violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Me, I was glad for it, especially on the way down.

whiskers said...

Oh how delightful! The problem I found with my French is I'm about 30 seconds behind the conversation...and by the time I've figured out an appropriate response people have moved on.

St. Blogwen said...

I did my dry run with la française in Montréal. Or tried to. People would address me in French, but the second they noticed my hesitation, they'd switch into English. Annoying. I finally managed to order une tasse de thé in French in a café and it was so marvellous when it worked!