Friday, October 30, 2015

bye bye, Vienna

When the cafés and bars in Vienna start hanging velvet curtains in the doorways to stop the draft from blowing in, it's time to head home. 
Not that Montreal is any warmer, but at least I have warmer clothes at home. 

Time for one last cone of roasted chestnuts. A sweet man, he added an extra. We live in a time when anything can be bought anywhere, but roasted chestnuts are still better in Europe.  

A last walk past the cool windows displays, often with the owner's dog in patient or resigned--certainly obedient--attendance. 

Eavesdropping on some last intense conversations in which politics, philosophy, art, refugees, and I'd-better-get-going-because-my-little-girl-is-waiting-at-daycare are being discussed. 

A few last sketches, though I don't know if he realized he was sitting under a poster for an exhibition called To Draw To Draw. 

A last visit to the Institute of Conservation where I had spent time doing research for a new novel. I was asked not to take pictures of the objects being restored. The glass case you can just see bottom right contains the wooden clogs of a 15th-century saint. The clogs will be cleaned and placed in the older case which is believed to have originally housed them. It, too, needs to be cleaned with sponges, tweezers, brushes (and a cell phone?) of several centuries of dirt. 

In the evening we had a stroll and a traditional meal of Kümmel-Schopfbraten with Knödel und Kraut in a Viennese Beisl--the Austrian word for a Gasthaus. Beisl translates as a little bite, though the little bite you'll get here will see you through a few hours of scything hay on an Alpine slope. 
What I loved about this place were the wood-panelled wine refrigerators--in honour of which I had a glass of Prosecco. 

There will be more blog posts about Austria once I'm settled again. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

shoes and cups / Vienna

There's old-style Viennese

where cups were designed so there was room on the saucer for a cookie

and what looked like gold really was gold. (That's me in the mirror.)

And new-style Viennese

where design is still paramount,

even in public bathrooms,

and sidewalk cafés still have interesting cups.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

a room with a view in Vienna

I’m having a beer in Vienna. Long windows and wood-panelled walls. Green tablecloths with tasselled lime-green runners. 

Three tables away an older woman is dictating—word for word, no notes—to a younger woman who is typing. (Do people still do this kind of work?) The older woman seems to be writing a memoir that has to do with the role she played in getting state funding for kindergartens. She had to prove the psychological and physical developmental benefits of early socialization. Lots of dry abstract language. 

Directly out the window is a cream-coloured building with decorative frieze work and wrought-iron balconies. At an angle I can see the Naschmarkt or market which is closed just now. When it’s open, you can buy herbs, fruits, honey, sausages, oysters... 
In 1977 I bought a second-hand top hat at the Naschmarkt for a man with flamboyant tastes. We’d already decided to split before I came to Europe, but at some point while away I felt nostalgic and decided to bring him a gift. It wasn't a collapsible top hat and I had to carry it in a separate bag on the plane.    

If my parents hadn’t left Austria and if I hadn’t been born in Canada, I think I would now be living in Vienna. The city fits me, I can feel it. The tempo, the people, the mood. I wouldn't need much, just one of those little windows at the top of a building where I could look out and write. 

It's not impossible that I would be a writer if I were living this other life in Austria. My grandfather Zorn wrote a novel. It was about his first love who wasn’t allowed to marry him because her mother had died and her father expected her to stay home and keep house for him. In protest she ran out into a snowstorm and froze in the snow. Or she and her father were on their way somewhere during a snowstorm and she got pneumonia and died. Or her father threw her out the door into a snowstorm when she insisted that she meant to marry my grandfather. 

I’ve heard different versions of what might have happened. The upshot was that she died. She either already had a newborn or she gave birth while she was dying. In the coffin photo she has a newborn at her side. My grandfather still had the coffin photo in his wallet when he died at 88. My grandmother buried it with him and said, Now he’s with her, I hope he’s happy. She knew he hadn't married her for love. He'd needed someone to keep house for him. Several women in my family had their fate decided over this matter of keeping house.

The two women are still working hard on the manuscript, though just now they’re having a mild disagreement over whether to use a period or a dash. Through the wall I can hear the schnitzel being pounded in the kitchen.  

On another note, the time changed last night. Spring forward, fall back. Daylight savings. This afternoon when we were walking I noticed that all the public clocks have already been changed. Even on stone church towers several centuries old. Who climbed up there? And when, at 2 am?

Monday, October 19, 2015

federal elections Canada / Grimms fairytales

I'll be looking online later tonight for election results. Fingers crossed.

Here's an etching to help motivate people to vote. My aunt has this astounding copy of Grimms fairytales illustrated by Gustav Doré. 

Despite mostly grey skies, it's not all grim here. There's been cycling past cornfields and rivers and lakes with a view onto mountains.


Doesn't everyone have a gold tree on the ceiling of their bathroom?

R got a Klimt tie as a present which he's wearing with my cousin's snazzy glasses.

If you wonder if it's true that in Alpine countries cows gambol about in the meadows, have a look bottom left.

I've been learning about restoring centuries-old statues that were *cleaned* by slapping on a coat of white paint. The white paint is now removed--very carefully--revealing the original colouring that is freshened. I learned, too, how the expression on a statue's face comes from the brush more than the chisel. I've now seen several version of the same statue with expressions that range from glowering to mild and sweet.

We were so fortunate as to be invited by a countess on a private tour of a castle built in the 1500s.

On another mountain entirely we found a hut with flax that a character from a fairytale might one day spin into gold.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

the mushroom told me

We found a café-bar but it had closed for the season. The advantage of travelling off-season is that there are less tourists but also less tourist infrastructure.

We  continued on our way past a mysterious yellow door and a canal that ran milky green on one side and clear on the other.

There was a castle but only the eagles were fed there.  

At the lake I called for the fish that’s supposed to grant three wishes, but he must have been sleeping.

I thought this one would help but he had only earnest exhortations about the fine quality of the drinking water (which it was). 

I wondered if it was wise to enter what I believed was a Grimms fairytale forest, but R was ravenous and tromped ahead. 

When he found a mushroom the size of a human head, he wanted to break off a piece—à la Hansel and Gretel—but I wouldn’t let him.

In return, the mushroom told us to continue through the forest past the troll house.

Listen to mushrooms. At Finkelstein we found a Gasthaus where I had excellent Kasnudel (cottage cheese dumplings). R is eating his soup—with homemade spätzle—so fast that his fork is a blur. 

The napkins on the tables are thicker than my bed sheets back home. I kept them for writing letters.

Friday, October 9, 2015

where am I?

In a land of giant slugs.  

But not raining so hard that I can't go hiking...

There are sheep and cows and ancient apple trees. Mountains, too, but hidden in fog today. This could be the Prairies for what I see of slopes. 

Figs and lemons grow here too.

A cat, closely related to a cat called Charlie who lives in Montreal, comes to visit when I'm sitting in the garden.

Here's a wooden ceiling approx 1000 yrs old.

Here I'm being shown how one makes decorative plaster moulding.

This is what I see out the kitchen window of the apartment where we're staying. Cool or portentous?

The door of our building is a gorgeous stained glass door that weighs a ton to swing open. I can't get the little toy computer with which I'm travelling to show it upright. In real life it is upright.

More I could show you but I'm footloose and going off for a walk now that the sky has cleared up.