Saturday, 4 April 2020

1999 Weimar, Venice

27.4.99 Cremona

So strange to be leaving at 19.30 – journeys should being early, symbolically at the start of the day.  But I need this trip, a token recharge of the intellectual batteries.  The usual madness: 18 hours of travelling each way, one day there – true travelling.  "There" is Weimar, chosen for an amazing cluster of contingent reasons… Because Dresden and Leipzig seem rather sad and too far away, because I'm discovering the amazing inventiveness of Liszt, because Goethe…

And so back to the Italian railways – which, in many way, remain my favourite.  Germans may be more efficient, the Austrians more luxurious, but so many of my seminal years were passed in travelling by train around the pivotal names: Rome, Florence, Venice…  I will always regret that I kept no journal for those three years of "lost journeys" – though maybe I saw more as a result.  Twenty years on, I have flashes of memory, certain places, certain incidents.  Maybe it's better that way – deep, powerful and unarticulated memories.

28.4.99 München Hauptbahnhof

In the ICE, waiting to start.  A hotel (5 star) on wheels this – all glistening steel, carpets and design.  Hecne the £7 supplement for the privilege of using it.  Rather broken sleep last night.  First too hot, then gradually too cold.  And the night seemed to be filled with more bumping and grinding than usual.  Four of us in the compartment: a young German woman (21) speaking excellent English; an Italian, speaking good German; and a Swede (25) speaking reasonable English.  The last was a pain.  A "model" that had just split from his girlfriend (for someone richer he said – I was tempted to suggest someone more intelligent) he immediately went into mechanical seduction mode with the woman.  Tiresome.  You could tell the type from the way he swept back his hair…

I'd forgotten that this is old DDR: the typical grey house colour.  But why do so many homes have two or three satellite dishes?  Passed through Eisenach, but didn't see Bach…  Weimar, Herder's church.  The most amazing thing here (apart from the tree of coloured eggs) is not the altarpiece but the huge stone funeral monument to its left – a boiling, surging mass of marble.  Weimar is strange.  It's very gappy – nothing really solidifies, and there are huge jumps of style everywhere.  But pleasant.

This is more like it.  In the Frauentor Cafe, at what is more or less the point of balance between Goethehaus, Schillerhaus and Marktplatz.  The quantity of people outside is indicative that this is where humanity flows naturally.  Even here decent music in the background – along with the gentle hubbub of people.  They seem to have rather devastating cakes here too, one of which – Gefüllte Streuselkuchen – I am about to try.  It is amazing what warmth and socialbility can do to your mood.  Before, I was cold and increasingly depressed, but with a hefty slabs of cake in front of me, things are looking better…

Part of the problem with Weimar is that it's not finished – there are cranes and building sites everywhere – obviously still making good the years of neglect under the DDR.  In Goethe's house.  Nicely enclosed feel in the courtyard, and the view onto it from upstairs.  Creaking floorboards, the smell of wax.  A room full of plaster casts of Greek/Rome statues.  An oven, set in a small room.  Strange staircases leading up and across – but closed off.  A fine view onto the square – his view?  From here, I can see the table where I sat ten minutes ago (a table that reminded me of Estonian glögi…).  Amazing plaster heads – 2'6" tall.  The only thing: nothing is labelled, lending it all an anonymous air.

Along Schillerstrasse to Amalienhaus/palace whatever.  Well done – feels authentic.  Wonderful green bedroom squeezed between other rooms.  Upstairs, the stunning music room – all gaudy scagliola. Interestingly, not as high as our living room, and the chandelier is smaller… (Wittumspalais).  

Well, it had to be done.  Doubtless at great cost, while talking on my old mobile, I walked to the theatre and stood in front of the Goethe-Schiller monument. There is a webcam there, and I was on it.  Then, after wandering round even more, to the Residenz Cafe for supper.  Rather spooky, but also atmospheric.  Two CDs acquired – though rather different.  One is 20,000 pages of German literature – just £10.  It's not clear how complete the works are, but at £10 it's a bargain (and also a sign of how in five years' time most of the world's literature will be available in this way).  The other more conventional – Goethe's Faust, Part I, in a performance from the 1950s (2 CDs).  Might be handy for getting to know the piece better.  Fine food here – excellent Schweinemedaillons (and big portions).  The castle tower outside – one of the few bits to survive a big fire – looks like some charred rocket.

29.4.99  Weimar

In the Schlossmuseum – which, alas, is largely geschlossen.  A room of icons.  The most bizarre: a dog-headed saint Christopher Cynocephalus.  Earlier, to the Liszt museum.  Even though this was not the Liszthaus, but the one he spent the summer months in after his long stay in Rome.  I was strangely moved by the place.  By Liszt that is, who became more admirable the more I got know him and his music.  The simple bedroom, the quiet but pregnant living room with grand and upright piano.  Then out into the park, to Goethe's garden house (though I didn't go in).  Along to here – rather cold (both physically and metaphorically).  I've left my bag at the hotel, and aim to wander most of today.  

In the Cranach gallery.  The most interesting thing is the signature of Lucas Cranach the younger: a tiny winged dragon holding a ring in its mouth – I wonder what it means.  To the Neues Museum – which is nice, not least because it smells new.  Of course, 80% of the stuff is garbage – but the room of Anselm Kiefer shows what art is about.  Midgard – brilliant depiction of the end… Exodus wonderfully graphic depiction of a beginning.    The Vault – giddying in its unliteral exactness.  Operation Sealion just works...yes, this is art…

Some of the best exhibits are not exhibits: the doorways of the museum – beautiful, sensuous wood – edible almost.  The giant photos by Thomas Ruff are genuinely interesting – seeing things in people's face that are normally invisible, too small to notice.  Murals of Odysseus – including those that Liszt had – very weak really.  Compare "Ulysses deriding Polyphemus" here with Turner…  Also worth mentioning the Harings: the sureness of line alone bespeaks an artist…

Back in the Residenz – partly because both Frauentor and Scharfe Ecke were more or less full, partly because I need something filling now – tonight I eat at Fulda, between trains, so it is not clear how much or what there will be.  Pity about the smoke here, of which I will now stink.  But I suppose this is part of the "atmosphere"…

This morning ("the smorning") I finally discovered that MDR is Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, the local TV.  I've seen this on satellite TV, but it wasn't clear what its coverage was.  I'm gradually getting the hang of .de TV – MTV represents the middle, the unknown heart – which is appropriate for Weimar too…

The sun  is hot in the park by the river (Ilm).  Before, I went to Schiller's house – completing symmetrically my visit.  It was better in the sense that there were more bits to see.  The facade is also more striking.  Then down to the river – which is idyllic in this spring weather.  The birds are chirruping, there is the smell of cut grass in the air.  Along to the Liszt statue – which is covered in plastic (couldn't they have done this last year?)  But they are dismantling the scaffolding as I write – another nice one for the symbolically inclined.  The sound of the scaffolding pipes creates a fine Klang... 

What fun.  The whole of German railways seem to be up the spout.  The train to Fulda was 30 minutes late, and the one to Munich 50 minutes – probably enough to lose me the connection to Venice… But luckily the train before to Munich was equally late, so I was able to take that. [Parenthetically, .de trains also have the worst screeching brakes I've ever heard – schrecklich.]  Pity about the timings: basically Fulda is a town (a) worth seeing, and (b) is located near to the station (unlike Weimar), so a visit would have been possible. 

The Listzt book has been good (I've read 300 pages so far) – the perfect tome to take.  Pity about the cliches, though...Interesting: I've had a theme going through my head all day – I knew it was Liszt, orchestral, but not what.  Turns out to be the "pride" theme of Faust…

30.4.99 Venice

More precisely, Piazza Santa Maria Formosa, having drunk a fine cappuccino and eaten a nice brioche at the cafe.  It's good to be back.   Santa Maria Formosa seems to have had a clean up, but the palazzo opposite is still a disgraceful, decaying wreck.  The sun is breaking through the morning mist; could be warm. Excellent train journey after all the earlier excitement (though in fact they held the train for 20 minutes for other delayed connections – very sensible, very .de).  I was impressed by the size of the train – 20 or more coaches, splitting off to Florence, Milan, Venice.  Compartment full, but an excellent night's sleep.  On the way here – by foot, of course – passed through Piazza San Salvatore.  Amazing: there is grass around some trees.  Passed through several parts completely unknown to me – the joy of Venice.

For no particular reason, along to the Church of the Greeks, by San Lorenzo (ciao).  The iconostasis – they certainly know about impact, these people.  The smell of incense hanging in the air… To San Zaccaria, which – to my horror and delight – is unknown to me.  Very airy and light inside.  After wandering around pleasantly, I find myself in "I due cugnai" – here for 44 years, apparently.  Excellent food – the wine too good (and too much at half a litre).  But I have a problem: Venice is hot and full of tourists.  I went along to Palazzo Grassi, with the vague intent of seeing "I Maya".  A queue of 500 people – not visibly moving – changed my mind.  On reflection, that January 1st trip was perhaps the quintessential Venice – and those others when it rained.  Venice was born from the water, and requires it.

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