Tuesday 31 January 2012

Of antiques and dogs

This last weekend I popped in to the Winter Antique Fair held in Battersea Park ...


... where once again, it was a dog's day out for Chelsea's pampered pooches. Whether a Louis Quatorze or a mid-20th century arm-chair, the little darlings had their thrones ...  


from which to keep a watchful eye over proceedings.



The fair was a book collector's dream ...


... in fact a dream for collectors of just about anything. Ammonites? Thread spools? Pomegranates? ...





I would have liked to be able to buy this whole shelf-full of old ironstone and creamware, not to mention the urn ...


and a giant clock or two ...



but was more than happy with my single purchase of a worn and well-used 18th century pewter dish ...


Exiting through the foyer I wondered if the posh pooches didn't feel their water bowl a trifle sub-standard ..?



(So many thanks to Karin from La Pouyette for kindly mailing me an invitation to the fair - her own old haunt - yet again!)


Friday 20 January 2012

What (who) I'm reading now

Julian Barnes (Flaubert's Parrot, Talking it Over, Love etc., England England ... and so many more) has been one of my favourite contemporary writers for years. Late last year I read his two most recent books ... 

                    Image source: www.telegraph.co.uk


Pulse (published in 2011) is a collection of short stories that collectively amount to a reflection on relationships between men and women, as well as on qualities of 'Englishness' ... at least, as far as these apply to middle-class, educated English lives. (Interestingly, Barnes seems to be bi-cultural: English-born to parents who were teachers of French, he's been a life-long Francophile and has won major French literary prizes as well as been made commandeur of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres).  

                         Image source: www.dispatch.com

It's tempting to wonder about the extent to which he draws on personal experience for these stories. Barnes was married to the very successful, South African-born literary agent Pat Kavanagh (below right), whose clients were some of Britain’s best known writers, including Auberon Waugh, Andrew Motion, William Trevor and Martin Amis. (When Amis dumped Kavanagh in favour of a new editor, the longstanding friendship between Barnes and Amis, two of the best living British writers, ended summarily, bitterly and publicly). She famously left Barnes briefly in the 1980s to have an affair with the writer Jeanette Winterson, returning to him for another couple of decades until she died quite recently.

                    Image sources: www.julianbarnes.com; www.nytimes.com


Not surprisingly perhaps, then, many of the stories in Pulse have themes of loss and bereavement, though I was also struck by the honesty (often uncomfortable) with which he explores men as partners. 

The Sense of an Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize - Barnes’s first win after being shortlisted three times previously. Only 150 pages long, it’s a novella rather than a novel, yet has the feel of a substantial story. Unlike the previous year’s Booker winner, Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which I had many reservations about (see here), I found this a really engaging read ...

                         Image source: www.guardian.co.uk


It explores the question of what we remember about the key relationships in our lives as we get older. The main character, Tony Webster, is in retirement, nearing the end of a life he considers unremarkable but pretty satisfactory.  In the early stages of the book, he chronicles this life with the rather tidy explanations of key events that most of us tend to rely on in summing up our lives. Tony’s watershed moment comes when he receives an unexpected bequest that includes the personal diary of an old friend who died young many years before. From this point, it becomes apparent to both him and the reader that he is an unreliable narrator. Delving back into events, he is forced to re-interpret his past and question truths he held which now appear to have been built on illusory grounds. Successive ‘understandings’ giving way to newer ones as they are proved inaccurate too. In the process, Tony discovers that “as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or what you have been.

The book’s unsettling message is that we only partially understand our own life stories; as Barnes’s character is confronted with the unreliability of personal memories, he reflects that “the history that happens under our noses ought to be the clearest, and yet it’s the most deliquescent”.



Tuesday 17 January 2012

Parks, music and Freud

Outside of coffee houses, life happens in Vienna's parks ...


where even in winter ...


and despite the grandeur of their surroundings ...

Double eagle on the entrance to Burggarten (top); the Neue Burg, seen from the Burggarten.

people gather to take a seat and read ...


or chat (even the rose bushes in the Volksgarten tenderly wrapped against the freezing air) ...


while Goethe broods darkly ...


Franz Joseph ponders ...


and even the dogs look well-dressed and aristocratic ...


Vienna's favourite son is everywhere in evidence - whether posing grandly in the Burggarten ...


or nipping round the city in in a Renault Scenic ...

Side view of the opera house; the shop at Beethoven's house.

In St Stephen's cathedral, at the heart of the circle that is Vienna's Innere Stadt, we happened to walk in on an evening mass with full choir and organ and these incredible illuminations of the cathedral's interior ...


We were also lucky enough to see the fantastic Magritte exhibition currently on at the Albertina Museum ...


Mais ceci n'est pas une pipe, non, it is Monet's The Water Lily Pond painted quite magnificently onto the stairs leading to the Albertina ...



While at 19 Berggasse, over in the 9th district, Freud's ghost rattles around ...


Photographic portrait of Freud; view from a window of his apartment; quote on wall of the staircase; his waiting room. All photos taken at 19 Berggasse, where Freud lived and worked for nearly five decades.

Detail in foyer of Freud's building

The original couch is in Hampstead, where he decamped for the last year of his life, but I liked this striking modern version in the Vienna house.


My love affair with Vienna goes on hold now until another trip becomes possible some day. Meanwhile I've been consoling myself by watching Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (watch the trailer here, which opens with the start of the best scene in the movie, in Café Sperl).

And this is the film I'm dying to see (about Freud and Jung) when it's released next month ... 

And thank you Bella Bheag for this link, for a quick nostalgia fix when I'm pining for a Wiener kaffeehaus!



Saturday 14 January 2012

Getting around in Vienna

The most romantic way to get around in Vienna is wrapped up cosily under a warm blanket, in a horse and carriage ...


they're called fiakers, as are their drivers, after Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of taxi drivers.


With their hats and greatcoats, aren't these fiakers straight out of Amadeus?


Fiakers chatting while their horses take a breather, in Albertinaplatz

Hey, could this be the same bloke from above, now whipping along the Burgring, chatting to his colourfully-wrapped elderly passenger?


Of course the carriage horses' aristocratic relations, the Lippizaners, have their home in Vienna, at the Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg Palace ... 


We didn't do the tour of their stables, but were lucky to get a glimpse of a courtyard exercise trot ...


and a close-up of one of these gorgeous creatures (doesn't he look as though he knows it?) looking over a stable door ...


while two neighbouring beauties nuzzled each other from adjacent quarters ...


The jolly red trams are a cheaper and efficient way to get around and see the sights ...


... but this is the man I'd like to get a ride with if only I could ... can you spot his dog perched behind?




Wednesday 11 January 2012

Drinking coffee in Vienna

In Vienna you are always looking into the windows of the most enticing places to eat and drink coffee ...


I seriously doubt there is such a thing as mediocre food in this city. 


The pics above and below were taken at Vapiano - (off shopping-mecca Mariahilferstrasse) - where fast food has never tasted so fresh and delicious - and Phil in the Museumsquartier - a cosy bookshop café where along with your  salad or sandwiches you can browse or buy books, music, and even their retro furniture, or just settle in to their comfy sofas to enjoy the free Wifi with your coffee.


Viennna's coffee houses are legendary and they each have their distinctive styling and history, but on a few things you can depend ...

... your coffee will come served on a silver tray alongside a glass of water with an upturned spoon perfectly balanced across its top and a silver bowl of sugar cubes; there will be a handy coat-rack near every table for easy divesting of your outer street wear; there will be plentiful reading material in the form of racks of all the latest newspapers, magazines or reviews ... 


... and, best of all, you will be made to feel you can stay as long as you please. Does life get more civilised than this?  


Café Hawelka is low-lit and atmospheric in bohemian style ...


Owned and run since 1939 by Leopold Hawelka, together with his wife Josephine who died in 2005 (you can see them in the black and white photograph on one of the poster-covered walls above), Hawelka saw the end of an era with Leopold's death just a few weeks ago, on December 30th 2011, aged 100 - see here and also Merisi's photographic tribute here.


Along with your kleiner or grosser Brauner, or perhaps a Mélange (get your coffee lingo right, for heaven's sake), you might try their sachertorte - preferably mit schlag, the Austrian version of whipped cream, which is not only less sugary but light as air ...


Café Diglas, on the other hand, goes with stylish bold reds and espresso-cup chandeliers ...


... while Café Sperl is traditional, old-time Vienna with wood and brass, antique glass chandeliers and red brocade. You can sit here for hours with the newspapers and endless coffee ... 


and perhaps succumb to an apfelstrudel, why not? 


Leaving best to last? ...

is Demel, right in front of the Hofsburg palace - seen in the photo below through strings of Christmas lights in Kohlmarkt ...


Demel's location is no lucky coincidence. Dating back to 1786, they were suppliers to the royal court, and a particular favourite of Empress Sissi who had their confectionaries personally delivered from over the road. It still bears the official title of K.u.K (Imperial and Royal) Hofzuckerbäcker 

La Bella blends beautifully with the decor upstairs at Demel's. That hot chocolate was to die for! 

They were doing a roaring trade before Christmas, their famous fresh Demel cakes flying off the shelves practically as fast as they could get them out of the oven. (We bought one that traveled to family in America in time for Christmas ... and rave reviews).


At the back of the store it's possible to watch the bakers and patissiers in action, creating their masterpieces ...


In my dream-life I would come here every day for a taste of these delights, or a little Wiener frühstück, sitting at the little window table upstairs where Merisi first introduced me to Demel's and some of the finer points of Viennese coffee and pastry ... but given reality (and in the interests of my waistline) I will settle for visiting here at Vienna for Beginners, and so should you, for the virtual experience through photographs so much better than mine :)


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