[Written in long-hand yesterday while waiting for a Brno-Vienna train]
I am sitting in the particularly insalubrious train station in Brno, Czech Republic. Our train back to Vienna–coming from Prague–has been delayed by an hour (and was delayed by half an hour getting here). I had planned to write up my entry about our lovely Vienna day yesterday while on the train, so I will now try to wax literary while sitting on this hard marble bench and listening to the female voice making endless announcements in Czech that are starting to sound kind of “1984” to me. I am so behind on my reports that this day in Brno will have to wait to be described while I write rather abbreviated accounts of other days and other themes. I do have a couple of significant thematic/topical ideas floating around as well, but will probably have to take an entire day just to write up things. (I’m typing this right now way after my bedtime).
Yesterday we had a little bit of everything happening, but at a nice pace, and as we wanted it to go. Both of us are still struggling with our urge to feel that we must accomplish something in the day instead of getting into an indolent mode that retirees are supposed to nurture but which, I think, must be nearly impossible for most of us to achieve. I have now registered at the Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek and the Wienbibliothek, so I can do research there–since research is what I do best. So I am now on the trail of the last of my trio of influential German-speaking women I have known, who stand as emblems of the history of the 20th century. Anna Spitzmueller–Spitzi to all of us–was my art history teacher when I first came to Vienna in 1969-70, and her story is the happiest one, although not without trauma, as she was directly involved in the Viennese art world in turbulent, and controversial times. I have wanted to learn more about her family and background. So I have had an excuse to once again learn all the new processes of digitized libraries that I used 30 years ago while writing my thesis here. I am never happier, or feel more USEFUL, than when I am learning the ropes of a new library system, and especially when I end up with some new information as I did yesterday. (Spitzi was born in Znaim, and her father was an Imperial general named Amadeo Spitzmueller von Tonalewehr!) So I came home for lunch happy and fulfilled.
We then went to find a small exhibition in a photo gallery that my Australian friend Gael Newton had told us about. For reasons that have to do with my inability ever to afford anything offered in an art or photo gallery, I have never been comfortable going into these small gallery rooms, which usually require going up to an upper floor of a chic building and ringing a bell to be admitted. It always makes me feel that I have no right to be gawking at things that the owner wants to sell. But because these images interested me, and because our friend (and landlady!) Nora is an accomplished photographer looking for a gallery, we went to the Johannes Faber Gallery on Brahmsplatz.
A beautiful sunny space, with the most wonderful Norwegian Forest Cat to greet us–“ein richtiger Waldgeist”, a real spirit of the forest, as the owner calls her.
The exhibit of what the artist and collector Charles Schwartz calls his “orphan collection”–damaged daguerreotypes that he has enlarged to incorporate the damages and imperfections into the aesthetic experience–was poignant and moving.
And I loved the gallery’s building–an old Sezession-era structure with some of the ornamentation remaining, and even an old-fashioned lift complete with velvet seat.
After some back and forthing on the U-Bahn–the real benefit of having the Viennese Transit’s monthly card is being able to go back and forth whenever you want to!–we ended up at Stephansplatz at about 4:30, with the light already beginning to be low enough to cast rays across St. Stephan’s itself. (That’s St. Stephan’s from the side above, with fiacres.)
This is my favorite time of day to walk through my favorite part of the inner city. This is the oldest section of Vienna, with Renaissance buildings, small streets, cozy courtyards, and charmingly narrow passageways between the crooked streets. We found a fantastic bookshop (Morawa), which has every conceivable magazine in about ten languages as well as floors of books; a real old-fashioned barbershop (rare to find in Vienna–George was dreading having to go to the ”Friseur”); and tiny shops specializing in everything from honey to leathergoods to Wiener Werkstätte jewelry.
Then we turned the corner to find the magnificent Jesuitenkirche, where the organist was practicing on the church’s immense organ–so a free concert in a nearly empty church!
My favorite little streets down in this section of town–we are now very close to the Donaukanal, which marks the other side of the Ring–are those in the so-called Griechischen Viertel, the Greek district, where the Greek Orthodox Church fronts the passageway to the ”Griechenbeisl”, now a rather touristy restaurant where, according to legend, the folk song ”Ach du lieber Augustin” was penned in the 17th century. Greek merchants have lived here since the 18th century.
This neighborhood is also where Vienna’s original synagogue was built and still remains.
When I lived here in 1970, my roommate Celine, who is Jewish, and I came to services here, and met the handsomest boys we knew in Vienna. The whole experience was quite emotional, especially for Celine, since it was then still resonantly apparent that the Nazi SS headquarters had been on the corner, at Judengasse. It is no surprise to find here those heart-wrenching Stolpersteine–stumbling blocks–marking the place where Viennese Jews lived, were deported, and murdered. Vienna does have memorials to these horrid events, but there is still some ambivalence here about Austria’s role in the Holocaust.
At the end of the synagogue’s street is St, Ruprecht, Vienna’s oldest extant church, dating to the 11th century. It is so good to see that it has endured, and that its fans are in the midst of a campaign to fund more renovations. I just love its location, and try to imagine what it was like sitting quietly here atop a little rise next to the river.
The only way to experience this part of town is on foot, which we love to do, but by this time (and at our age, I’m afraid), all the walking over irregular cobblestones and up granite and marble steps does deplete us after a while, so we took the U3 from Stephansplatz back to the Volkstheater stop, walked home and had leftover Mexican food for dinner.
Now that’s what I call a successful day in our new indolent lives!