Thursday 25 June 2020

1996 Vienna, Venice

Vienna 7.8.96

Donau Exhibition in the Schottenstift.  First room – very Peter Greenaway – a screen showing a bucket of water – in a bucket.  Pictures of the Ionian Sea.  Cliffs of Moher.  All slightly similar.  Beautiful space, showing the vaults of the church.  

Downstairs to the main exhibition: the sound of..."The Blue Danube".  Undine – set on the Donau – written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. "Danu" = river.  A picture of Wien 1845 – surrounded by fields.  A panorama showing the Danube before it was brutally straightened.  Amazing map of 1696, with the Venetian Empire embracing the Adriatic coast.

1994 DDSG – "Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft" - was closed down: originally it went al the way to the Levant.  Hebbel: "Österreich ist eine kleine Welt, in der die große ihre Probe hält."  "Melusina" – Grillparzer and Ludwig van Beethoven working together? A glass harmonica sounds eerily in the distance.  Interesting that after World War I, Austria was defined by what was left after creating all the other lands.  "Le reste, c'est Autriche".  In the slide show, with fine aerial photos of the bending river (and the isolated oxbows).

A moment of reflection.  My train arrived in Wien an hour late, so I have only about nine hours here, for which I'm paying about £120. But if I stayed the night, I'd just be another tourist (whereas in fact I'm a complete nutter).  Frighteningly long train from Rome to which our single carriage from Milan was added.  Slept reasonably well, although the air was in short supply at times.  Cappuccino and brioche on the train (good job I didn't wait).  In a way, I just wanted to show that it is possible to pop up to Wien for the day.  I also hope to hop out at Venice (at 4 in the morning) for one of those magic strolls at dawn.

Interesting collage of Austrian National anthems, including a strange Bundeshymne, marked "WAM".  On the other side, "Kompositionen und Klänge" – my kind of place this, deep in the heart of Vienna, with a collage of music, time to just think, to be… (Brahms' 4 on now…). Well, useful for me, but probably a little unsatisfactory for your average visitor.  Best bits the slide shows, confusing layout of the space, too – as I said to the PR lady – who thrust a catalogue on me, convinced that I was about to write all this up.  I don't think I was dishonest – I just showed my Press Card…

Anyway, in the slightly cool air (nice for walking), along to the old Trześniewski – which, I'm sorry to say, has added some glitz – albeit minimal – in the form of boring incitements to try out its various delights.  Which are still good.  Then along to the nearby music shop, looking for Mozart's "Così, così", which seems not to exist (should be in the Viennese version of Don Giovanni).  Must be from a parallel universe (the owner checked in the Köchel Verzeichnis – could only find "Così: due paroline" from "L'Oca del Cairo", and so refused to believe it existed.

Then down Kärntner Straße - rather tawdry with all its tourists.  I return to the bookshop that I went in a couple of years ago – and regretted not buying the Rilke volume (Suhrkamp?).  They didn't have it this time.  Went into EMI Austria next door: rubbish at outrageous prices.  As I left, a pigeon got me from on high.  I now have some fine stains on my "clean" t-shirt.

Sitting in the café of the Kunsthalle, where I came before.  Aiming to wander out to the Karlskirche, one of my favourites.  There now: it has lost its scaffolding and can be seen in (nearly) all of its glory.  U-bahn to Stephansplatz.  Wandering into a bookshop with lots of linguistic books (Baltische Sprachen, Alte aramäische Sprache etc.) and Colloquial Basque (in English) – yummy…

Now in Peterskirche – the first time here, I think.  Very kaiserlich und königlich it seems to me – old gilt, ochre walls.  Looking in a few more bookshops, took a trip down to the Westbahnhof (on the U3 – "my" U-bahn, since I was here on the day it opened).  It's much more parochial – going West – nothing so romantic as the Südbahnhof, with all the wonderfully evocative names – and that Drang nach Osten…

Taking U-bahn back, and then S1 rail service (which always worries me for some reason – I never feel that I'm going where I want to), back to find Rosenkavalier restaurant at the Südbahnhof.  No Gulaschsuppe this time, but Wiener Schnitzel + Vöslauer Wasser with Hundertwasser's characteristic label.

On the train – 418/34, as before.  But now we have a family of three – mother, five-to-six year old son, three-to-four year old daughter – who are ethnic Chinese, but come from Calcutta, and now live in Wien… How complicated it all becomes.  Also present an exaggeratedly-leggy young woman of indeterminate nationality.  Taller than me…  Just as a point of reference, the leggy is Slovenian… Nope, sorry, not Slovenian, Slovak – and a model to boot, en route to Calabria.  The Chinese woman also speaks English – and Hindi: what a polyglot lot we are in here tonight… Although these kids are driving me nuts (as is the model's smoking, albeit in the corridor), it is an interesting microcosm of the future.  Where everyone speaks several languages and drops from one into the other…

Venice 8.8.96

On the Fondamenta Diedo, walking through a silent, deserted Venice at 4 in the morning.  Air balmy.  Cats miaow distantly, boats' ropes creak, water drips.  Overhead, a sliver of moon dodges in and out of the clouds.  Selig

In Piazza San Marco – alone.  Raining slightly now – air very humid.  The sky lightening gradually.  Faint sounds of the dawn chorus – and of refrigerator units.  A beetle crawls on the step beneath me.  Down by the gondolas, which thrash like so many startled cows as the waves from the vaporetto slap their bottoms.

Light now (6am), in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; they have put out chairs and tables in the square (shocking).  I wonder (always) who owns the ruined but fine palazzo opposite the church.  A story there surely.  Past the forestiera – lights in the main hall.  Now at Santi Giovanni e Paolo.  Everywhere in the city there is the smell of fresh-baked bread.

The sky quite leaden now, with a strange line in the sky, as if it had been cut with a knife and sewn up.  Eight o'clock, and I'm a wee bit stanchino.  Thunders growl and some bright flashes of lightning fork to the east.  The wind is getting up: it'll rain.  Time for another breakfast…

It is now utterly bucketing down – I have taken refuge in the Bar Ristorante Da Gino (ciao!, Gino…), just a few steps from "our" restaurant, "Ai Cugniai".  I hope this rain burns itself out in the next 30 minutes, or I am stuffed (a statement that begs for the following sentence: "yes, I am stuffed…").  Vedremo.

Imagining a world without Venice is like imagining one without Mozart.  But this is daft: imagine a world without Mozart's 63rd, 74th and 99th symphonies, or the late operas – "Die Gesellschaft", "Immer die Liebe" and "Amletto" – or his amazing late string quartets inspired by Beethoven's Rasumovsky set (and what a pity Beethoven died so tragically young – imagine what symphonies and piano sonatas he might have produced…)

What's nice about these bars is the sense of family – as well as Gino, it's all first-name terms here.  Pity they are smoke like the proverbial.

Re-reading the Siena Days in this notebook, I am struck by my double privilege: not just to have seen these things wonderful things, but to have returned to them.  The joy of recognition, re-discovery and new discovery.  The same, of course, with Venice, which I have visited perhaps ten times now.  But all the more important to stay here only a few days, lest it become familiar and lose its glorious improbability.

Gino sings quietly behind the bar.

To the Palazzo Grassi, "I Greci dell'Occidente".  Interesting distinction between colonisation and founding (metropolis = mother-city).  Greeks brought the polis – city – with them.  Amazing the tribes that we know of early Italy: Sikans, Sisidi, Elinians, Ausonians, etc.  Nice oath of the Greeks with the Sicels: "As long as they trod on this earth and had heads on their shoulders" – but they put earth in their shoes and garlic heads hidden in clothing on the shoulders…

The origins of the Doric order: triglyph may have been decorative ends, but mutules were a reflexion of older structures.  Wonderful: the angle conflict of corner triglyphs.  The origin of the temple – oikos (home/hearth).  The link between colonies and the development of classic architecture = propaganda = civic architecture.

The Temple of Apollo at Syracuse – first monument entirely in stone.  Wonderful metope with Odysseus and Alcyoneus (550BC).  Goethe on the Selinous temples: "oppressive and almost terrifying".  Selinous – wow.  Manifestation of town planning because aligned with the town.  Syracuse – 733BC – its street plan is used to this day.  Interesting how close Thucydides is to all this.

Money was mostly used to pay mercenaries.  Each city had its own weights systems – which made commerce difficult.  Greek tyrants affirmed rule with public works – pushed Agrigento  to do the same.  And of course, the colour of the ceramics.  The Ionic order, especially at Metaponto, all about Athens vs. Sicily.  This war destroyed Athens and its empire.

Amazing diagrams using coloured blocks to show ratios of various parts of the temple – the issue of why is one more beautiful than another – if maths is the basis of beauty.  Town planning at Naxos (Sicily).  Wonderful all the dubious stories and opinions on the Boston ThroneSybaris = Sybaritic = decadence.  Description of enforced deportations, return of citizens – like Bosnia.  Hippodamus of Miletus – urban theoretician, urban blocks.  The change in theatrical masks from variable to fixed.  The catapult was invented at Syracuse.  Colours used to articulate architecture: red for horizontal, blue for vertical.  The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is like Étienne-Louis Boullée

Since I have missed the 11 o'clock train and there isn't one at 12.06, I may as well luxuriate in the sunny (and increasingly touristy-filled) Venice.  To the Caffè di Torino – but not for chocolate this time: for tramezzini.

Although I was not particularly impressed by the background "info" on the exhibition, I think that I can say that I learnt more from this than most others I have ever been to (with the emphasis on learning).  That is, it taught me both about the roots of Classicism, and also the end of Athens, and how Sicily/Syracuse are central to this.  I can see how to tie together many elements from this.

The exhibition really was excellent – everything that the Danube one, alas, was not: well organised, easy to follow, rich, attractive to look at, and ultimately revelatory.  Walking back to the Ferrovie dello Stato  station I somehow ended up near the Piazzale Roma – very strange how the landscape changes there, with trees and roads – a real few hundred metres of transition – palpable.

Now on the extremely comfortable Zurich train (I'm almost tempted…), which is pleasantly empty at the moment.  Parenthetically, it seems that I have been quite prescient all these years in using the @ sign in my notebooks instead of writing "at"…  I did notice, though, that there is an interesting exhibition in Trieste – of Czech-held Venetian paintings.  I quite fancy seeing Trieste in winter...

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