This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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About books and worship

vienna-22There are people who travel just to see famous libraries. I should like to be one of those people. There ought to be a Michelin guide for libraries: where one star is an honor, two stars recommend a detour to have the experience, and three stars a special journey out just to see the place. The Austrian National Library truly is one worthy of traveling to just to see the place. vienna-21The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI surely thought of a library worth three stars, as he constructed a State Hall in the shape of a cathedral and placed himself, surrounded by the sun-pattern on the floor, in the middle to be worshiped. One should better worship the books and knowledge and poetry, but with the Baroque splendor all around, one might just forget about the content and stand in awe before the building itself.
vienna-20Even books used to be so much more beautiful back then: golden inscriptions and delicate sizes, favoring multiple volumes over the brick-size murder weapons that some pocket books are today.vienna-18Should one’s eyes wander all the way up to the ceiling, they will most likely remain stuck there for quite some time. And no, the images are not about Christian Bible legends or Paradise, but about the great Habsburg dynasty, as if it were god-like.

Walking toward the radiantly depicted Holy Roman Emperor statue, below the fresco of Habsburg heavens, in a building designed like a cathedral, I was not quite sure if the said Emperor really had constructed the library as a haven for knowledge, or as a deification of himself. Perhaps not the humblest of perspectives, but then again, who expects an Emperor to be humble?
vienna-25(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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Music mass tourism

vienna-12Who cares that Vienna was twice sieged by the Ottoman Turks, had its shares of plagues and epidemics, and was taken by Napoleon twice. What is remembered of Vienna today is the art, the Habsburg dynasty, the horses, the cakes, the waltzes; and the good, slightly decadent, living. And of course the music: Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Mozart, and the rest.

Unfortunately, businessy people know how well tourists remember. And so we toured a quite stripped-down apartment of Schubert, where the receptionist spoke little English and knew little of the person whose life was on display. And at night we went to the most beautiful, little, fresco-decorated music chamber, where the Mozart played was barely tolerable. I guess we have now been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt.

But a little mystery was discovered: why did Schubert write his sheet music notes on the higher end of the staff as mirror image to what is published? If you look at the “upside down” notes they face left, not right. Was he left-handed or just lazy?vienna-13(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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Horses horses horses

vienna-11Why is it that perfect control over animals is viewed as a beautiful thing in our human culture? Why is it that a perfectly behaving horse or dog is seen as a perfect companion; whereas a cat that levels with a person and establishes a deep friendship, where it still usually does as it pleases, is seen as uncomfortable or even unappreciated? The Spanish Riding School claims to only enhance the natural behavior of the Lipizzaner horses, but why must they be perfectly controlled by straight-backed men (and a few women) for us to love them? As I sat watching the Morgenarbeid (Morning Work) of the horses in the Spanish Riding School, I could not help but think of the incessant need for dominion over animals and anything else that is one of the deepest drives of us humans.
vienna-23During the centuries, the horses have been involved in much human power play. Lipizzaner horses in the Spanish riding school in Vienna have an Italian name originating from a breeding place in Slovenia. European history in a nutshell. They were specially rescued during the World Wars and have been close to the hearts of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. Today they are close to the hearts of so many little girls and boys worldwide.

All Lipizzaners are born dark brown, nearly black. Most mature into a grayish white, but sometimes the brown color prevails. A dark stallion is a good-luck horse, a talisman that is said to protect the school, as trouble has ensued several times when the school has been occupied by white horses only. And the current dark resident was beautiful. Alas, no photos allowed of the horses, and this was strictly enforced. vienna-10(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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The nameless library

vienna-6Is it 4 shelves of closed books, spines turned inward? Is it a bunker, doors forever closed? Is it a chamber with something precious inside? Who knows. But people did have opinions when the holocaust memorial on the Judenplatz was revealed in 2000. Even some Jewish people thought it spoiled the beautiful little square.

When the builders started digging into the street below, they uncovered the remains of an age-old synagogue. The story goes that dozens of Jewish people committed suicide on the same spot centuries before, to resist being captured by a religious persecutor.

Yes. History has a tendency of repeating itself. And we have a tendency of not learning from history. 65,000 Jewish people of Austria were killed during the holocaust. That equals 178 persons per day for an entire year. Imagine the slaughter.

(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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vienna-1Silentium. Silence. For the sake of the bones of 145 Austrian emperors, empresses, church leaders, and other rather important people. vienna-2Their earthly remains are encapsulated in copper and bronze tombs that are (mostly) elaborate. Some the size of a one-room apartment, decorated like a wedding cake on the outside. But for some very macabre reason, the hearts and intestines are missing from most of the persons. Because, natürlich, hearts and intestines were buried separately, in quite another crypt. All of this is very Egyptian, somehow. vienna-3The Capucin crypt contains rows and rows of sleeping Habsburg emperors and empresses. Even Maximilian the Emperor of Mexico (yes, really, for a brief moment). But the two last emperors are missing. Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination snowballed into WWI, is buried elsewhere in Austria. His son Charles, the last proper emperor of Austria, is buried in Italy.

It must be heavy to carry the Imperial crown even when one is dead. Yet this bronze death skull guy is doing it just fine, save for a few missing teeth. vienna-4(Capucin Crypt, Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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The writing on the wall

Processed with Snapseed.“Finally, in this greenery, Ulla stood as bride for the last time”

In the oldest restaurant in Stockholm the writing on the bathroom wall is by an 18th century poet-songwriter called Bellman. They are the last lines from a song describing a marvelous summer lunch out in the lush forest, by a spring.

Food and love always went hand in hand.

(Den Gyldene Freden, Stockholm, Sweden; October 2016)

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When curls, cherub looks, and heels were the height of masculinity

Versailles-4One day we ventured out to Versailles. Turns out we were not the only ones. During most of its history, Versailles has hosted a busy front yard bustling with horses, carriages, and working people. Today it can look down upon a few hundred meters of zigzagging, well-ordered lines of people waiting for entry.Versailles-3Versailles is a thing of beauty – feminine beauty by today’s standards. But a man of power and stature in the 17th century saw different ideals to aspire to. In Louis XIV’s time, the height of manliness was a soft, plump, slightly rounded middle-aged cherub face and angelic curls. A wig of course. And a man of court was to carry red or blue garments and a lace neckerchief; and wear high-heeled dancing shoes, along with shorts that left his tight-covered legs visible for admiration.

Yes. Men were admired for their curls and their legs, and their angelic appearance. Get used to it. Everything that is manly today was downplayed. Where was unruly, wild hair? A beard? A strong jaw, muscular arms, and a flat stomach? Things that are admired in men today were nonexistent in the French baroque and following rococo period. Only height carried over to today as a connecting trait. And the only manly physique displayed was legs, and ideally with strong calf muscles. Calf muscles! How fetishous should any woman be judged today if she drooled after calf muscles?Versailles-1As we watched the never-ending rows of paintings depicting some seriously flamboyant men, my sister pointed out that the function of the 17th century men’s sense of esthetics was to appear as peacocks, or those male tropical birds that show off with bright colors and dance and make decorated nests. Indeed. Louis XIV’s idea of a dream “man cave” was to decorate it with cherubs, gilded vines, Roman gods, and fountains. Not exactly a fanfare to masculinity in today’s terms. Versailles-6But men of the 17th century also saw warfare, murder, death, and violence as part of normal daily order of things. Being out in the battlefield, dirty and bloody, seeing comrades die was not too far from reality, even for the highest commander. Perhaps a balance was needed – and hence all the gilded vines and angels off-duty?Versailles-2As I walked through the flowery gardens of the Versailles, I could not help but wonder: were men of Louis XIV’s era emancipated in respect of a female identity alongside a very masculine identity? Or were they repressing their male identities in comparison to a strong, feminine-directed collective sense of esthetics? Did these men of the Sun King’s time truly consider cherubs cool interior decorations for their walls, or were they forced to think they needed to consider them befitting a man’s house?

And would I, the modern female, seem very vulgar and masculine in the eyes of the men of court of the 17th century?Versailles-5(Versailles, France; July 2016)