“Stretching” is from my series of poems Aria with Thirty Variations, loosely based on the structure and mood of Bach’s great keyboard work of 1742 (more commonly called the Goldberg Variations). Last year, a terrific new recording of the variations by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka was released as part of a larger project called Open Goldberg Variations. Open Goldberg is a project funded by Kickstarter, comprising Ishizaka’s recording, a free iPad app, and a new edition of Bach’s score. All of it is released into the Public Domain, using a Creative Commons Zero license, and the producers encouraged other artists to use the score and recording for their own artistic purposes.
My Goldberg series is intended to be performed live — poetry recited along with a piano performance of Bach’s score. I’ve taken Ishizaka’s recording of Variation 15, edited it to fit my poem (she took both repeats, where my poem was based on not repeating the variations’ two sections) and laid my own vocal recording on top of hers. Click the play button below to listen:
Stretching (Variation 15) / David Zaza, voice / Kimiko Ishizaka, piano
There’s a website I’ve been reading called The 3six5, which takes the form of a “personal journal”-style blog, but with each day of the year written by a different person. Not long ago, I saw on Twitter that they were still looking for writers and I applied to be one of the November authors. I was assigned November 18, which was yesterday. I spent my day in Philadelphia and then on the ride home to NYC I wrote my entry and submitted it. It’s posted here.
Jack Gilbert has died. He was 87.
The Abnormal Is Not Courage, by Jack Gilbert; read by David Zaza
I’ve been a bit overloaded since the beginning of my autumn vacation season. Having plowed quickly through some entries on my Vienna trip, many entries are yet to be written for Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Lagrasse, and — now, having just returned — Mexico City. I’m working on it. Check back soon.
For now, a short photo preview.
Tuesday, September 18
Wednesday was a great last day in Vienna. I woke early again, took my breakfast at the hotel, then tried to beat the crush of tourists at the State Reading Room of the Bibliotheque Nationale by arriving at 10:05am. This was a mostly successful effort. The room is grand and dim, with shafts of sunlight filtering in through the high windows. It’s filled with books, obviously. Lots of them. They haven unfortunately, covered up many of the eye-level details with contemporary displays and signs and a silly, pointless exhibition of Vienna tourism posters from the 20th century. As I was leaving, three groups of 50 old people each came filing in — smelling like old people and prattling on in English, German, and Oldpeoplese. When I descended to street level I crossed paths with a group of Austrian teens — so fresh-faced and smelling better than the olds, but just as annoying for prattling on about all kinds of nonsense. So, traveling alone makes me a snob? Yes. Yes it does.
Passing through the Hofburg Palace I emerged near the Ring and crossed over to the museum district. When I arrived at the Kunsthistorisches Museum what did I find? A busload of old people just in line to buy their tickets. Unaware of their personal space, giving Americans a bad name, and generally acting Old, they delayed my arrival into the galleries by at least 20 minutes. Danke!
The Kunsthistorisches is just amazing. I started this visit with the Venetians. A wonderful room of Titians took a lot my time. The Veroneses and Bellinis and Tintorettos a bit less so. And then it was time to return to Bruegel. This time I spent about 45 minutes in there. I discovered that the painting of children’s games had been moved away and a new picture had taken its place. This change, I assume, is due to Ed Ruscha’s curated show that was to open the following week, which I had learned about back in the summer through a client. I had worried that the winter landscape would not be on view because of that show — so I got lucky. Not only did I see everything I wanted to see, I got an extra painting in as well. Imagine — they have more Bruegels somewhere in storage, just waiting for an opening on the gallery wall to fill. Crazy!
Having satisfied my hunger for this great museum’s paintings, I descended to the ground floor to stroll through their antiquities. I pretty much streaked it, though I was impressed by the collection, especially the breadth and beauty of the Greek vases.
I am writing from my seat on my Vienna –> Paris flight. We’ve just backed away from the gate. Oui oui — à Paris, s’il vous plait!
I left the Kunsthistorisches filled with aesthetic wonder, emotional calm, and lots of hunger. I decided to lunch at the famous Café Landtmann — a hangout for the city’s international political community. I walked along the Ringstrasse, passing the state legislature building, with its columns, its stars, its black limos, its earpieces and security. I arrived at Landtmann and found an outdoor table under their huge iconic awning. The weather was warm and sunny, but with a lovely cool breeze.
Revvvvvvvvv….. Zooooooooom…… and…. we’re up!
I ate the most delicious Viennese chicken — prepared just like wiener schnitzel, but with that juicy succulence you only get from deep-frying chicken. It came with a salad that had a lightly sweet, lightly tangy balsamic dressing. I drank another zweigelt — the Austrian wine that had become my go-to beverage on this trip. And for dessert I had an espresso and a himbeer-vanille torte. It was all raspberry and vanilla yumminess, and pink and pretty and refined and very very Viennese.
Nearby was the Votive Church, an important Gothic cathedral built on the site of an assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Joseph. Inside, they were constructing an enormous scaffold, for renovation I assume. It prevented the full visual appreciation of this huge architectural space, but it was kind of thrilling to hear the loud clanging of hammers, metal poles, bolts, and the voices of construction workers echoing in a sacred place. I only stayed a few minutes though — I had more ground to cover. Out into the quiet intense sunlight, to find a CityBike station.
When I got to the nearest bike hub, a young Russian man needed help using the system. (Being Russian, he looked old even though he was young. The way of the world.) I can’t imagine trying to figure that system out with no language at all, not even the alphabet — he spoke zero German and zero English — just Russian. He called a friend and handed me his phone — “Translate,” he said. I said hello but the person on the other end rattled away in Russian. I handed the phone back, and suddenly I had the sense that maybe I was about to be scammed or robbed. I quickly entered my own info into the kiosk, unlocked a bike, and pulled it out of its stand. The Russian guy was so happy I’d gotten a bike out for him!! Um, no. I shook my head, smiled, and pointed to my chest: Sorry, friend, this bike is mine. He frowned, then raised his eyebrows, and said, “I you cash.” And a big wad of euros was produced from his pocket. I laughed out loud. “No no no,” I said. I mounted my bike — “Good luck!” I called as I rode away.
I followed a heavily trafficked bike path about two miles to the MuseumsQuartier. It was time for MUMOK. An impressive black building, balancing the white Leopold Museum that is its mirror image on the other flank of the Kunsthalle that sits between them. The top three floors were given to a show about fashion in modern art. You know, Beuys’ felt suit, et al. It was spare, using the galleries’ ample spaces to create the most minimal, open-looking version of a high-end department store. It was ghastly. On the two lower floors was a much more interesting show on minimalism, earth art, and conceptual art. I’d seen most everything in it before, but I saw a really nice Robert Mangold painting I’d never seen, and a Bruce Nauman film from the 60s of him walking the perimeter of a square. Very cool. I also saw a tall Viennese man in a green t-shirt who kept flirting with me in gallery after gallery. At the end of the show, he got into the elevator with me, so I smiled and said, “Hello.” The doors closed. “HALLO!” he bellowed, and smiled back. The the doors opened and we exited into the gift shop. He went his way and I went mine, chuckling. HALLO!!!
How can I keep having sub-par muffin experiences?! First the airport and now the airplane. What’s up, Austrian Air!?!
Jenny Jacoby had recommended a bon-bon shop, which is right near Julius Meinl, so I walked back through Michaelenplatz and made my way to Altmann & Kühne. I bought a very expensive box of bonbons to share with the family on arrival in Paris, and some kind of pale, chocolatey nougat ball with sprinkles, which I ate right there and then. The Viennese love their sweets! And so do I.
Since I was right there I took a table at Julius Meinl’s cafe, and had myself an Aperol Spritzer, wearing sunglasses, and feeling the exact kind of glamorous solitude I’d been hoping to find by traveling alone. Perfect. Two elderly Frenchmen appeared at my table saying “Excusez-moi, monsieur…” and whatever is French for “may we share this table?” I made my best French facial expression for “but of course!” and nodded and gestured to the chairs before me. They sat down. They ordered beer and chatted away like the French all do, like old friends do, so relaxed and happy. I raised my glass and nodded when their beers arrived. When I finished my drink, I stood, smiled, and said “Au revoir!” They bid me farewell back and I was on my way.
I strolled back to the hotel, stopping on the way at a store called Blaumax, where I oddly bought a blue cardigan. It’s got nice detailing at the seams and it seemed conservative but just unusual enough for me to wear it with panache, I hope. €49. I dropped my stuff at the hotel, then headed back out once more. I had one more major tourist spot to see.
I found a bike station at Stephensplatz, and began my journey to the Wiener Riesenrad, the old Ferris wheel to the north. I arrived at a central train station, returned my bike, and walked into a weird time-traveling moment. An odd little amusement park sits in a dingy park — broken down and lonely. Pathetic, in the good sense. It’s called Wurstelprater and it made me feel like I was definitely in a Europe — if not a time — I’d never been in before. Ugly, old, broken, sad. In need of new visitors, a new paint job, new technologies, new life. I paid my €9 and boarded the Riesenrad. This is no London Eye — it’s rickety and worn. And when all eight people in our cabin moved to one side to get a view, the car tilted steeply in that direction. Scary. I felt at that moment that I’d finished with Vienna. I now needed the lights of Paris, the thrill of something better preserved, and the relief from solitude that comes with traveling with the four people I love most in this world.
I biked back to the Stephanplatz, then wandered a bit. I ate a kāsekrainer at a sausage stand. I went to the outdoor cafe at the Ambassador Hotel for one last glass of zweigelt. And then back to the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth to pack, to blog, to sleep, perchance to dream….
My car picked me up this morning at 5am. It is now 8:45 and we are 20 minutes from landing in Paris. Germany or France in out my window. My bad muffins are eaten. Next comes love and family and ballet and wine. Dusty Springfield is singing Brand New Me on my iPod. Excitement builds. I’m heading west. The Zazas and an Armstrong are heading east, somewhere over the Atlantic. See you there….
Not enough room to post all my Vienna photos here. The complete series can be viewed here.
Sunday, September 16
I guess the long afternoon nap on Saturday properly reset my internal clock, because on Sunday I woke up before my alarm (something I never ever do). I “showered” and came down to the breakfast room and ate yogurt and granola and some pastries while I wrote in my diary.
It was another sunny day in Vienna — a good day to go farther afield. I had decided to walk to the Schönbrunn Palace, but as I approached the Ringstrasse I realized it was farther than I’d thought. So I headed toward the U-Bahn. When I got to the station I realized I’d walked to the wrong line — the #2 instead of the #4. And I really didn’t relish the idea of walking 15 minutes back in the wrong direction. I had seen people riding bikes from CityBike, the Vienna bike-share program, and I thought, “Well, let’s see.” I found a bike station and it took me a fair while to figure out all the logistics, rent the bike, and plan a route. But once I set off on my sturdy yellow three-speed, I felt free and mobile and happy. I got the bike near the Volkstheater and rode straight up one main road for a few miles to a park, where I turned left to skirt it, then right to go through it, and twenty minutes later I arrived at Schönbrunn Palace, where there was a convenient CityBike station just outside. I parked, bought some water, and went in.
Schönbrunn began as a modest summer home for Empress Maria Theresa, but it was quickly built up to be a colossal homestead of the Habsbourgs. And it was from here that Maria Theresa’s daughter was married off to her French cousin to repair strained dynastic relations. Bad timing though, for the young queen — one Marie Antoinette — lost her head in the French Revolution. Anyway, suffice it to say the Habsbourgs were livin’ large over there at the Schönbrunn Palace. The grounds are superb — gardens and fountains and arboretums and graceful grandeur. At the top of a hill a glorious “gloriette” looms, overseeing the castle and grounds. I took the long, steep, switch-back path up the hill and stood atop the gloriette like a king. Well, like a Kaiser.
After returning to earth I had time before my palace tour to enter the hedge maze in the gardens. It was small, but I still got lost and frustrated, first trying to get to the center where there was a viewing platform, and then getting out again! I stopped at one of the cafes for a coffee before the tour, and used the free wi-fi to download the audioguide. The palace was great — all gilt and brocade and florets and decorous paintings. Among other bits of Habsbourg history, I learned that after the fall of the dynasty and the building’s takeover by the state, this palace’s ballroom was the place of the 1961 “Vienna Summit” between JFK and Khrushchev. I’d opted for the short tour, so I dropped out after twenty rooms or so. I made my way back to the bike station, rented another, and rode twenty minutes back to the MuseumsQuartier.
I’d planned to see one or two of the museums at the MuseumsQuartier — Vienna’s enormous living room of arts, cafes, and people-watching. But the palace visit was longer than I’d anticipated, and I was starving and hot and tired from my bike riding. So I sought out a restaurant that my conservator friend from the night before had recommended. I settled into the lovely, leafy garden at Glacis Beisl, and an ashtray was promptly brought to the table. It’s true — the Viennese smoke more than any other citizenry I’ve ever seen. I didn’t smoke. But I had a late lunch of Wiener schnitzel (well, when in Rome!) and a glass of zweigelt. The schnitzel was fantastic — aromatic and light — served with a berry sauce and a salad of lettuce, potato, beans, and cabbage. The salad was drenched in a rich balsamic dressing. It was all terrific.
From there I walked slowly back toward the hotel, but decided to stop at Cafe Mozart near the Albertina Museum for a beverage. I ate an apple strudel, drank my Aperol spritzer, and wrote postcards in the sunshine. I felt like I was on vacation! I didn’t have much time then — I returned to the hotel, charged my phone, and dressed for the opera.
The Staatsoper is a grand building — a small auditorium with luxurious but straight-forward decor. It has the kind of elegant formality that much of Vienna seems to have. Very fancy, but not ostentatious. I had a glass of champagne in the lobby, then found my seat in row 7, just off the center aisle. Strauss’s Arabella is a curious affair — a melodrama romance without much of a sense of humor. The melodies, development, orchestrations, and vocal richness are all compelling — but the plot is significantly shallower than the three acts and three-hour runtime demand. But the performances of the main roles, especially the two leads Camilla Nylund and Tomasz Konieczny, were impressively expressive. At intermission the entire audience got up and exited the theater. I’ve never seen anything like it. Everyone went outside to smoke (of course) and to drink and socialize. It felt glamorous, old-school, and elegant. Also, I’m glad I wore a suit. Although many tourists were dressed casually, the locals were all turned out. Beautifully.
After the opera I went across the street to the Cafe Sacher, in the hotel of the same name. I had a coffee and the famous Sacher Torte. It was yummy but… but what? I don’t know what all the fuss is about. A perfectly good chocolate cake — dry and firm in a Germanic way — with a hint of raspberry and a chocolate fondant icing. Anyway, it is something you must do in Vienna, so I did it. (Also, I think what I’m saying here is that I just had chocolate cake for dinner. Yay for me!)
Feeling not quite ready to end the night, I went deeper into the Sacher Hotel and found their little Blaue Bar. I sat at the bar and sipped an armagnac. My body felt tired — from the cycling and hill-climbing at Schönbrunn, no doubt — so after my drink I headed home. I again intended to drink a whisky from the minibar and write in my diary. But again, I just dove right into bed and right into sleep.
Monday, September 17
I started the day by going to church. Well, a church. After again waking before my alarm and dining in the hotel breakfast room, I made my way toward the St. Charles Church. On the way I saw the lovely station at Karlsplatz designed by Secessionist Otto Wagner. It was small and ornate and compact, and hidden away in a little nowhere land between here and there.
Karlskirche is a beautiful place, with a soaring, complicated exterior of green and gold and white, and a surprisingly small and vertical interior with ornate decor. The dome is under renovation, and they have an elaborate scaffolding inserted up into it — a visually sexual metaphor that made me think of priests and children, unfortunately. Anyway, there’s an elevator in the scaffold that takes you up into the dome, to a platform that is just above the lip of the dome’s base. And from there you can take a staircase up up up up up through the center of the dome and into the cupola. The uppermost platform has you able to reach out an touch the Holy Ghost itself (almost). Amazing. There were also incredible views of all of Vienna. Thrilling — and very vertigo-inducing as you come down the steps. In fact, the whole enterprise was a bit scary — I mean, it looked and felt perfectly safe, but when you’re standing on the platform and the elevator starts to move, you feel the whole structure move a bit. It’s disconcerting to say the least, but it was a real thrill to get up into that dome and see the painting up close, see the weird perspective of the painted figures in order for them to conform to the shape of the dome, and see the construction of something so old and massive in detail you never get to see.
It was a shortish walk from Karlskirche to the Belvedere — more Habsbourg grandiosity. I entered the Lower Belvedere, which was built as a “garden villa.” Um, not your average garden guesthouse. I saw a very interesting exhibition called Orient & Occident, about the eastward travels of Austrian artists in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was great, with wonderful landscapes and cityscapes throughout. The building was also wonderful, with room after room of marble and ornamented doorways and windows. The center room, facing the grand garden, was beautiful with bronze-colored marble. I moved into the garden and was floored by its beauty. A long rectangular walkway, with sculpted topiary, large hedges, and trees, led to a sumptious fountain, above which was another even larger gardened walkway, built of stone paths and beds of flowers, sloping up to the grand palace at the top. These gardens, for me, embodied Vienna: restrained, grand, and formal. The upper gardens made me want to run and leap or lie down in wonder — they were so perfectly balanced and pure in their design. I walked straight up the center like balancing on a tightrope and arrived at the Upper Belvedere with Viennese beauty pulsing in my veins.
At the top of the hill stands this palace — a large imposing building, holding a wonderful collection of early 20th century Austrian art — Schiele, Kokoschka, et al. And Klimt. Klimt Klimt Klimt. For his 150th birthday, Vienna has chosen to shove Klimt down our throats. It’s interesting which artists we love more when exposed to vast amounts of their work. And interesting which we love less. Meet Klimt. Of course, I’m exaggerating — but I’m less moved by the work now than I used to be. It was an interesting show, with some wonderful early work I’d never known. By the end, though, I was streaking. The Schieles, by comparison, were all a revelation. I’ve never actually seen many of his paintings — drawings mostly. The paintings in this collection are rather varied and all terrific. After buying postcards I strode quickly back through the perfect gardens and returned to the world outside Belvedere walls.
I was hot and I was fatigued and I was starving. I wanted to go back to the MuseumsQuartier for lunch but dreaded the long walk. Bike-share to the rescue! I am a total convert. I rode the two or three miles or so back to the station at the Volkstheater. As I rode I passed an Italian trattoria on the Ring that made me crave pasta. But when I settled into the Leopold Cafe at the MQ, I saw the word “beefburger” and knew I’d found my spot. It was a rare, juicy burger with mayo and cheese and lettuce and tomato and a little salad on the side. I ate it in five bites, while sipping a negroni (told you I found my spot!). In the cool breeze of this outdoor cafe. Looking at the beautiful young Viennese sunning themselves on the ugly contemporary plastic furniture in the MQ courtyard. Life was fine.
Refreshed, I climbed the steps up to the Leopold Museum. More Schiele and Klimt. But the Klimt was much less prominent, and I started with a spectacular show of about thirty Schiele paintings. One after another they all enthralled me. Then upstairs to the permanent collection — a terrific survey of Viennese art from the late 1800s to the mid 20th century. Klimt looked better in context. Vienna Secession posters, lovely drawings, more Schiele paintings. Great great great. Also, I quite liked the museum building itself. It’s new, but designed with the same kind of smart restraint I saw all over all Vienna. It fits in beautifully.
I really had art fatigue now for sure. So although I intended to also see the Kunsthalle (contemporary art museum) I decided to just skip it. I didn’t come to Europe to see contemporary art anyway. I went into their shop though, which featured a black-and-white Polaroid photobooth. I took some funny pictures, then headed back through the Kunsthistorisches gardens toward the ring. I walked around and into the Bibliotheque Nationale, but found this fabulous old building had been converted into modern reading rooms for actually contemporary library users. Hmm. I was looking for the grand State Reading Room, and learned it’s in another building around the corner. So I explored the ins and outs and passageways of the Hofburg Palace. I went into St. Augustine Church, which was dark and white and cool. Again, small and formal, grand but restrained. Around the corner I found the State Reading Room: Closed Mondays. Okay, tomorrow then.
Next stop: The Albertina. This is yet another thrilling old Habsbourg building. The collection of early 20th Century painting was great — some impressionism, cubism, classical period Picasso, etc. Wonderful. And it made me feel like I was having a small preview of the art I’d see in Paris later this same week. There were three tall Austrian boys strolling the galleries — two blond, one dark — each cuter than the next. 18 years old. College kids. Lookin’ at art. Thin, wonderful hair, youth and beauty in spades. Deep voices, easy laughter. I love them and the way they love art. Anyway, I moved past them and on to the Habsbourg State Rooms. Wow. These are period rooms! No modern signage, nothing roped off (except the chairs, to prevent sitting), hardly any guards. No exit signs even. It was really like walking through someone’s house. Someone filthy stinkin’ rich. All period rooms should be like this. One ballroom had the most amazing pink and yellow marble walls. Thrilling.
In the basement of the Albertina was a drawings and print show about a Triumphal Procession of Maximillian. I was out of my head with art fatigue, so I super-streaked it. A multi-sheet drawing snaking around a huge room — over 300 meters long, showing this amazing procession in amazing detail. Very cool.
I was parched when I left. On the street of my hotel is Loos American Bar. I took a seat there and ordered a Gibson and a sparkling water and chilled out at an outdoor table. My waiter was nice, but the shift changed while I was there and the new fellow was a little slice of heaven. Early 20s, tall, thin, long wispy hair — he looked like he was from the Island of Misfit Strokes, a real Julian Casablancas type, but more beautiful by far. I will remember him. Feeling better with booze, I wanted to see Julius Meinl, a food shop that was nearby. Woa. It’s like Dean & Deluca on steroids — fancy fancy foodstuffs from all over the word. Literally hundreds of kinds of bottled water. Insane. And of course, mixed right in with the chilled water are splits of champagne. God bless Europe. I resisted the bubbly and just bought water.
Just next door is St. Peter’s Church. Small and discreet on the outside, the inside is a visual flavor sensation, with everything popping into 3D lifelike details, where painted portraits of saints have their cloaks suddenly flowing out in plaster over the architecture in sweet relief, or a painting of the Christ child has his crown bursting out from its surface with real precious metals and jewels. Over-the-top. And gorgeous.
I returned to the hotel. I closed the heavy curtains. I relieved myself of every stitch of clothing. And I was suddenly napping in a cloud of art and religious iconography and booze and austere bedding. I woke up refreshed and rather hungry at 9pm.
For dinner I strolled to the Palmenhaus, a huge restaurant and bar in an old greenhouse. Lovely setting, in a park, back behind the Albertina. I was given a fairly shitty table, but it was near a door to the outdoor seating so it was at least cool with fresh air. I had an herb salad, then a whole branzino. It was perfectly fine food, but nothing special. Still, it was good to eat something lighter than all the meat and pastry dough I’d been consuming.
On the way back home, I couldn’t resist the urge to return to Loos American Bar. Inside, it really is like an American bar. It’s the size of Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar, or even smaller, but dark and clubby, with red leather and dark wood. And real cocktails with bartenders who know what they’re doing! How great to find that in Europe. I got a seat at the bar halfway through my first Gibson, so I had another. My Julian Casablancas waiter was there, thank god, smiling his pulchritudinous smile, staying young and perfect. It was very smokey and that reminded me if what bars were like in NYC back in the day. I decided to enjoy the visceral memory rather than be annoyed by the smoke. I ordered a Bombay Safire martini with a twist. It was perfect. I left drunk and happy. I had a half-block walk back to the hotel — just exactly at midnight. I hung my smokey clothes in the open window just like I used to do and drifted off to sleep, with Julian Casablancas’s songs playing in my head.
There are a lot more photos from Vienna. The complete series can be viewed here.
Friday, September 14
I usually get sick after getting on airplanes, but the universe had other things in mind for me this time. I was sick as a dog for two weeks leading up to my vacation. Things at work were busy as they always are in September, and as things reached a fever pitch I worried that my trip to Vienna would consist solely of lying in my hotel bed recovering for four days. Luckily, my illness began its retreat a few days before my departure and when I got to Vienna I was more or less fine, but for a lingering deep-chested cough.
I only slept a few hours the night before I left. Coffee and Advil got me through to 2pm, when I left the office for the airport, amid thoughts of how absolutely unprepared I was for this trip. I didn’t really do much research into Vienna, but I did a bit of last-minute planning, and anyway it wouldn’t hurt me to just relax and wing it a bit. I had the possibility of meeting up with a curator at the MUMOK, the modern museum, by way of a mutual friend at MoMA here in NYC. He sounded busy when I was first in touch, but I’d try again when I got there. And I had a ticket for the opera, and a long list of museums I wanted to see.
This is a particularly uncomfortable plane. Also it’s the first one I’ve ever seen with no passenger air vents at all. It’s gonna be eight hours of ear fever. However, I miraculously ended up in a row with no one in the middle seat. Hallelujah.
I’m glad I arranged a car for Vienna. I don’t feel like navigating a train in German. I wonder if Austrian German is different from German German.
We’ve backed away from the gate.
I’m sweating. I love New York. But my god I am happy to be leaving it behind for a few weeks. I forgot to call my neighbors. I forgot to call Barclays.
Oh these video screens have POV feeds from the front of the plane. Love that. The sun’s low in the sky and reflecting prettily off the water beyond the tarmac. The Verrazano bridge is lovely in silhouette. Ah, there’s WTC1. I’m actually about to cry. From stress, frustration, confusion, relief. Other planes take off on bent wings. The orangey red of Austrian‘s pillows glows to match the raking sunlight.
I’m so sleepy. Lulled further by this POV video. The slow winding yellow line guiding us to the runway. Are we there yet? We still have so far to go. Now following another plane, as it elegantly turns out of view.
Another crosses. We turn. I see the Empire State.
Planes diverge in a field of asphalt. We’re alone on our path. Now the pastel chalk of low-res camera feeds kaleidoscopes into something abstract. It’s not like looking out the front window, where context and peripheral vision give our brains more pieces with which to build the world. It is instead a dizzyingly abstract peephole looking onto some strange, desolate land where there are only 256 colors.
We continue, turn toward a lighted lane. Did I bring with me everything I need?
The engines swell. We race forward.
We have embarked.
Saturday, September 15
Well I didn’t sleep much on the plane, despite my exhaustion and Valium. It was quite bumpy all night and I kept getting shaken awake. We arrived 45 minutes early, which was great for getting my body off the damned plane, but bad for not being able to check in to the hotel till 1pm. Anyway, my car was waiting for me at the airport, with a handsome young Turkish driver. Guten morgen!
I arrived at the hotel bleary-eyed, left my bags, and strolled out into the center of a sunny Vienna just waking up, 9am. I strolled to nearby Stephansdom — St. Stephen’s Cathedral — which was lovely with its crazy colorful roof. But I was too out of it to feel like paying to see its main altar. Perhaps I would return to see it and the bell tower later.
I decided to stroll and get lost. Wandered through the pedestrian-only area of the historical city center, where my hotel was. It’s all Forever21, Prada, H&M, and McDonalds, which is weird, but with absolutely beautiful architecture. I headed north to the canal, then circled back. Sunshine and autumn breezes made it quite pleasant, and my zombie-like demeanor made it all unreal. Eventually I wound my way to the Ringstrasse, which rings this inner part of the city. I saw the opera house, Sacher Hotel, Michaelerplatz and all the amazing buildings there — Hofburg Palace, with the Spanish Riding School, National Library, etc., and Volksgarten park.
Across the Ring was the main museum district, and with more than two hours to go before I could check in, I decided to plunge into the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which was more or less the reason for my coming to Vienna. It is a stunning building — grand and imposing, with the heaviest old door that opens with a turn of a handle and the full weight of the body. I went straight for the Bruegels, as I knew I would have trouble with stamina given my condition. Well, I spent a good hour in Saal IX with about a dozen Bruegel paintings. The Tower of Babel, Children’s Games, the autumn and winter paintings — just mind-blowingly great. Strange, detailed, encyclopedic compositions, with a reverence for peasants and even more so for nature and landscape. These paintings made me feel as tiny as standing on a beach looking out at the black ocean at night. I moved on to Rubens — a vast and high-quality collection of them, including a Lamentation of Christ that moved me deeply. I can only imagine what a believer would feel looking at this — with Christ’s flesh rendered the color of vomit and the anguish of John and the Virgin absolutely riveting. Van Dyck, Dürer, sure. Out in the main rotunda they have built a scaffolding up to the arches just below the ceiling so visitors can see the early murals of Klimt. Gorgeous and vertiginous. I was delirious at this point, so I left without seeing Titian, Tintoretto, and the other Venetians. I planned to visit the Bruegels again anyway.
Then more wandering, a pastry, a stroll through Michaelerplatz, some live music there from a seated band that then got up and marched right toward me. Heading toward the hotel I stopped at one of the ubiquitous Wiener Würstl stands. I had a kāsekrainer — sausage with cheese inside. It was sliced, served on a little square paper plate with a big dollop of spicy mustard and a slice of brown bread in a napkin. It was heavenly. I had time for a gelato, so I had one — chocolate and fiore di latte. Then I finally checked into my hotel.
Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth is terrific — somewhat formal, but stripped down to a bare formalism that I would come to learn was very Viennese. Narrow hallways, framed mirrors, a staircase circling the tiny elevator. Haltingly formal but pleasant service. The room was large and quiet, with hardwood floors and area rugs. The bed was an austere affair — two firm single futons on a large wood frame, with simple white bedding. I took off my clothes and collapsed into it. I slept from 2pm till 6pm, and I didn’t care about wasting the day. I needed it.
I awoke and “showered” and dressed. I wandered around the cool evening targeting two of the restaurants I had read about on Galerie St. Etienne‘s helpful Guide to Vienna — I’d choose between Novelli and Vestibül. Vestibül is in the Burgtheater building. It was empty when I arrived at 7:30pm so I wandered out past Cafe Landtmann (famous as a power hub), circled back, and aimed for Novelli to see what its vibe was. Despite having the address, a map, and GPS I couldn’t find it. I learned later it’s become something else.
So back to Vestibül, which had also been featured on both the NY Times’ recommendations and New York Magazine as well. Now it was full. I tried my two German sentences out on them: “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” and “Ich habe nicht eine Reservierung.” No matter — they spoke English and they had a table for me. A wonderful small dining room awaited me — all marble and grandeur (it was, obviously, the vestibule of the theater). White tablecloths and a seemingly mostly local clientele. A cheery, plump blonde woman was my server. After I ordered in English, a woman at the table next to me — also dining alone — asked me, “What brings you to Vienna?” “Bruegel,” I replied and smiled. She was impressed, as it turns out she’s a paintings conservator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, visiting Vienna for a conference. We had a lovely, meandering conversation throughout the meal, with long pauses when we would retreat to dining alone. I had the tasting menu — duck, thinly sliced, served with puree of pumpkin. It was perfectly autumnal. Then veal — some sliced thin and rare, and a thick piece that was braised or stewed — cooked to tender perfection and covered in a thick gravy. It was accompanied by peas, snap peas, and a wedge of braised lettuce with a lemon zing to it. Great. For dessert, even though I was in notoriously sweet-toothed Vienna, I opted for cheese over sweets. A blue roquefort was brought out, with walnuts and pear. Wow. I had a zippy glass of white wine with the duck and two glasses of their house red — a zweigelt — with the rest of the meal. The red was dry and complex, dark and leathery. The meal was €85, and totally worth it.
I walked slowly back to Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth through empty streets. I planned to drink a whisky from the minibar and write in my diary. Instead, I simply collapsed into bed and slept like a fucking rock.
The complete series of photos from Vienna can be viewed here.
This video offered without comment.
Eyes take your last look. The Paris of Marie and Marco’s 50th anniversary, the city of lights that opened itself to me and my family, the magical place that allowed me a last-minute cocktail (or two) with Carter, is about to retreat. The chimneys go dark. The nightlife goes home. The livers fatten somewhere outside the periphery, just waiting for me. But I come no more. Instead I go. Au revoir, Paris. Au revoir, mon ami.
There is nothing more satisfying than spending a day at the Mediterranean Sea, in the sunshine, with loved ones.
There are worse things than sitting on a balcony in the south of France, enjoying a sunny autumn afternoon, drinking a fantastic liqueur that’s not distributed in the United States. Here’s to Suze, and to an American future of White Negronis.