Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nudes, Rubes, and All That Jazz

A Viennese mélange for me, a prosecco for Misti, a bier for me, wasser mit gas for Misti, a little jazz, authentic Austrian food with friends, and more wandering through the streets of Vienna.  This expat stuff can be challenging.

We got culture this week of my favorite kinds – jazz and photography.

We discovered last week that Stacey Kent, my favorite jazz singer, was going to be in town Wednesday night for one show.  We grabbed tickets and enjoyed two sets plus three ovations in a small, cool Vienna jazz club called Porgy and Bess.  She sings in English, French and Portuguese.  You can watch a little French number at her website.

Stacey Kent
Misspent Youth (12 string is me) 
Many years ago I was in a semi-serious rock band and I spent most of my youth immersed in rock and roll.  As I aged, I evolved.  There was some point in my 40s when I was listening to a jazz album and a light went on … I got it.  So now my iPod is mostly jazz and of that, a lot of Stacey Kent.  If you liked the French song, you can watch an engaging video of Kent singing Waters of March with Suzanne Vega.    

So it was a good Wednesday night in Vienna.

On Monday night we were invited by a young American colleague at work to join her and her Austrian husband for dinner at Reinthalers Beisl, a real Austrian restaurant.  We did.  I ate a cliché … bratwurst and sauerkraut … but it was very good. 

Reinthalers Beisl
The Austrian, Stefan, is from Vienna and we learned more about the history and culture of the city, especially the 70s and 80s, when Vienna was confused about its identity. Those stories will be woven into a blog Misti is working on about the deeper, darker nature of this city.

Misti has mentioned several times the remarkable rudeness of many Viennese, and if anything she is being polite in her descriptions.  With that in mind, I will reveal my satisfying, revenge-filled shopping experience at the small Billa grocery store yesterday.  Keir and I rolled our cart toward the cashier and as we did so, a rather stout woman and her teenage son came at the cashier from a different angle.  She pushed by us and blocked our way.  She gave us the typical Viennese glare and then showed satisfaction when I had to circle my cart around behind hers.

It was crowded, and the line was long.  We inched forward.  Then another cashier suddenly appeared, opened a new register, and said, "Nächste." The stout woman moved, but I was schneller.  I moved left (remember, carts here roll sideways as well as forward and back) then jammed my cart ahead and blocked her path. She tried to push through, but not a chance.  She eventually had to circle around the candy stand, move down the milk lane, and get behind me.

I left the store pumping my fist.  I'd won the Battle at the Billa.  Keir appreciated the victory, but thought I was overreacting.
Photography Exhibit

Today Misti and I went to the Wien Musem to see a wonderful show of photographs by Trude Fleischmann, a Viennese photographer who broke the gender barrier in the 1920s as she photographed Vienna's artists and intellectuals.  As she and a few other female photographers opened studios, one Austrian complained that "harlotry had come to photography." 

Fleischmann's Work

Fleischmann's work … her nudes of dancers and a very familiar photo of Einstein … is engrossing.  The nude in the photo used as the poster for the exhibit is one of a series of nude dancers Fleischmann photographed in the 20s and early 30s.  It was, of course, scandalous. 

She was Jewish and had to flee Vienna and the Nazis in 1938 and settled in New York.  She became an American citizen and worked as a photographer until she died in 1990, at age 95.  She later described Vienna as "not very well behaved" during the Nazi era.

Early Tank
Two Women
Which brings us to the rest of the Wien museum.  This is the city's museum, with objects dating back to Roman times and a rich treasure of objects from 1300 on.  I've included some of the more interesting ones, including the top image of the keyless trumpets from Vienna, all dating to the 1600 or 1700s.

But just about the time we get to the mid-1930s, the exhibits end.  There is one small black and white picture of Stephansdom, the massive central cathedral, with a Nazi banner hanging on it. You have to look hard to see it.  There is also a painting of the cathedral in flames, which happened after Hitler decided to defend Vienna against the Russians by putting artillery all around the cathedral.  The Russians fired back, and the Cathedral went up in flames (the walls and central spire survived).

Vienna Circa 1930
Funeral Helmets

Other than that, unless we missed a wing, WWII and the dark ages of the 1940s left no trace.

As we wandered back through District One, Misti wanted to step into a small church where there are catacombs and where various organs of assorted esteemed people are supposedly stored.  We stepped in and were treated to a wonderful song by an accomplished choir of young people.

Choir Practice 

We'll return to search for the body parts another time.

Earlier in our walk we stopped at a little outdoor restaurant for water and coffee and were served by a Viennese woman (Daniella) who is a hair dresser by training, who is looking for a job in the tourist industry like the one she had in Turkey when she was there with her half-Turkish husband, who is a freelance 3-D computer artist who has a gig in Sweden.  Her English is good, as is her Turkish, and she can handle Russians as long as they don't all speak at once when they are ordering.  Her husband is good in Turkish, German and French.

Austrian Colors
We did see a classic old Citroen 2CV from the late 40s or early 50s, maybe.  It was worth a picture.
Rube in Vienna

It's really easy to feel like a rube in this town, particularly with my scant German skills.   At least we're not rude . . . mostly.