This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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At the opera

vienna-32Opera houses and theaters were like bars and nightclubs today: places to see and be seen. And because cities were much smaller still in the 19th century, and the ruling class even smaller still, everybody did know everybody. Thus, going to the opera was like going to one grand party where you know all guests.

And what better than to go to a party held in a house decorated in splendid gold, mirrors, and red carpets? So thought the Emperor of Austria-Hungary as well, and commissioned the work of a new opera house in Vienna. vienna-33When the glorious building was finished, the architect and interior designer proudly showed it to the court. But their hearts were broken: the emperor thought it rather simple. He proclaimed it resembled a train station. The interior designer committed suicide before the opening night, and the architect died of a stroke not long after.

Life sucks sometimes. But the opera house is still standing. And, viewed through today’s minimalistic eyes that usually encounter bare surfaces, it is quite an extravaganza. Everything is relative.vienna-34(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)

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An der schönen blauen Donau

vienna-14On Donauinsel you can run a marathon by just running around the island. The thing is, though, it is only about 100 meters wide so you will be running back and forth on the same route.

vienna-15And at each top (or so I am told), you must dodge stark naked people bathing, biking, and skating.

But on this windy winter’s day, the Donauinsel was asleep, save for a few kids playing soccer, a few seagulls taking a stroll, and a few rays of sunlight. And we. 
vienna-16(Donauinsel, 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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Detour in the Other Place


“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all—the colleges I mean—like an opera.”

(William Butler Yeats)

One freezing January week I made a detour to The Other Place, as those who went to Cambridge call Oxford (and vice versa). Fortunately I was able to break the news over Facebook, otherwise some of my Cantabrigian classmates would have probably made multiple attempts at lynching me.oxford-3But during that week there was no time to dream and remember. There were studies, 8 hours a day, with smart people from all around the world. There were too many age-old pubs. There was afternoon tea with champagne. There were colleges to discover.oxford-2And there was even a futile attempt at fencing. Apparently, women wear a madonna bustier – hence the busty look. Another mystery solved. It also turns out well-mannered fencing men have serious trouble fighting a woman – not because of chivalry but because they must shamelessly attack the bustier.

(No photographic evidence but trust me, I did wear the sour-smelling sweaty old gear including mask).oxford-1(Oxford, United Kingdom; January 2017)