Monday, June 21, 2010

Fashion and Rudeness

We spent yesterday evening walking around the Inner City. We started with the Stephansdom, arriving just in time for the start of the evening mass. The congregants were all clustered in the front, and the tourists stayed way in the back behind the gates. The church itself remained mostly empty.

As we walked around the outside of the church, Cherie was delighted to find there was an outlet of Zara here in Vienna, so we all went in to browse. I went up to the men´s section, but there were only two shirts that interested me, and I´m just not sure if I´m ready to embrace the return of epaulettes on men´s button down shirts.

One thing that was clear from watching people on the street is that the Viennese, in general, are far more fashionable than the Germans. One only ocassionally saw a person dressed in bright mossy-green pants with a red sweatshirt; instead, most were dressed nicely (if warmly) in dark pants and jackets. We tried to have dinner at Do & Co on Stephensplatz but they didn´t have seats until 9:45. We booked a table for Tuesday night, from 6:45 to 8:45. This is the first place in Europe I´ve ever heard of time limit on seating. In most places, the table is yours for the night.

Instead we walked around the corner to Reinthaler Beisl, a very traditional wood paneled, smokey Viennese restaurant. The name "beisl" oomes from Yiddish and means "little house." After making sure that there was a least one fish dish on the menu, we went in. I went with my "safe dish" - Schnitzel, while Annie and Cherie both had the fish. There were several "traditionally dressed" Austrians in our nook of the restaurant, with the kind of coats and shirts that strike me as Tyrolean. The food was very good, but I suggested we get dessert later.

We walked off the heavy meal, ending up by the Albertina where we ran into an Israeli tour group. The guide was explaining in Hebrew a set of statues in the square. Two large pieces had a marker (in German) explaining that on this site stood a house that was destroyed by bombardment in 1945 and where women, children and the elderly hiding in the basement were killed. The marker described this as a monument against fascism. The guide then pointed out a much smaller statue visible between and behind the bigger pieces. It was a dark stone figure of a hunched over figure scrubbing the pavement with barbed wire across his back. The stone came from Mauthausen and the figure was of a Jew forced to scrub the pavement after Kristallnacht. After the guide left, we couldn´t find any text describing this statue in the square.

This is one my problems with Austria. I love the art and food of Vienna, but I hate its absence of historical memory. During the Historkersstreit in Germany in the 1980s, Jürgen Habermas argued that it was important that the Holocaust remain front and center within German consciousness,so the victims "can come to our country and be able to breathe." In Vienna and Austria, there is very little public memory of the Holocaust or Austria´s critical role in it, and as a result, I´ve always had trouble breathing here.

We walked down the Graben, looking at the Pestsäule and then decided to go for dessert. We checked out Cafe Weinwurm, but the clientele just seemed a little odd, so I suggested Cafe Hawelka. My favorite cook book, Kaffeehaus, recommends their special dessert and this was also a favorite cafe of artists and writers.

It was too cold and drizzly to eat outside so we went in. The walls were wood panelled but covered in posters and drawings. The waiter told us we oould sit where we like, but the banquettes were all taken. We eventually found a free one behind a pillar, but after we sat down I noticed a small sign "reserviert" and sure enough the waiter told us we needed to move. We moved to a round table with chairs in the center, and the waiter came back to take our orders. We asked for a menu, but he explained there wasn´t any. We could get drinks or one of two desserts: fresh buchteln or cheese strudel. I came for the buchteln and I explained that they were like jelly donuts. "Jelly donuts!!" the waiter huffily interjected, "how can you call them that!" His eyebrows seemed to have a life of their own, one in which they suffered from hyperactivity disorder, constantly moving up and down, but not in synch. I ordered a milchkaffee and the buchteln, while Cherie got a hot chocolate.

A short while later, a group left one of the banquettes and we debated moving in to it. We decided to do so, but we got very angry and nasty looks from some people at the table behind us. I feared we had made a second faux pas, but later we saw another group do the same thing as us. Meanwhile, the people near us continued to glare and fume (literally, the smoke was unbelievable).

When I travel to foreign countries, I always act as if I´m a guest in someone else´s house. While it isn´t easy for me, I try to keep my voice down and be discrete and polite. I have never, however, felt the kind of hostility and rudeness that I did last night in Cafe Hawelka. Even when we left, as I was standing by the door waiting for Annie and Cherie to get their coats on, I made eye contact with a couple at a table. I smiled and said "guten abend;" they simply glared at me. I´m not sure why the regulars in the cafe were so rude, but I have three theories.

1) Without a doubt, when we sat down at the reserved table, we had "taken" the spot of a regular. I don´t think, however, this is sufficient explanation.

2) We were the only English speaking tourists in the cafe. Some of the hostility, therefore, might have been anti-Anglo Saxon.

3) But I think the most likely explanation is that the regulars feel that this is "their" cafe and that we were interlopers, coming in, clumsily messing things up, sitting in the wrong place, acting "inappropriately" and they wanted us gone.

That being said, the buchteln were wonderful. They´re not really jelly donuts. They are more like monkey bread with a hot plum (or prune) filling, dusted with powdered sugar. We devoured them greedily. After a while, though, the smoke in the cafe (I think ours was the only table where someone wasn´t lit) was too much for me, so I asked to leave. Annie wants to go back for more buchteln, but I´m not sure I can face the smoke and hostility again.

This morning, my digestive system decided to go on what I hope is only a 24-hour sit down strike. I tried to take it easier today. After breakfast, we headed to the Staatsoper to investigate Verdi´s La Forza del Destino. The only seats available are in the 100 plus Euro range, but we can also get standing room seats. Our plan is to watch as much as we are comfortable and to try to find empty seats at one of the intermissions. We can´t buy tickets until two hours before curtain Wednesday night.

We then went to the Upper Belvedere and toured the collection of Klimts, Schieles, and Kokoschkas. They changed the pictures on display from when I was here in 2006, with many of the German Expressionist paintings not being shown now.

We had a light lunch in the museum cafe and then it was a leisurely stroll to the gardens and then a several block walk to the Naschmarkt. Along the way we passed a large monument to Soviet troops killed in the liberation of the city in 1945.

The Naschmarkt has changed a lot since I was last here in 2006. It is far more middle eastern in both food options and workers. We stopped for coffee and dessert at Neni, and Cherie and I both ordered overly large chocolate mousse tortes. We met two of the waiters who turned out to be Viennese of Israeli descent. The whole cafe is family run and they told us that there are many Israelis in the market, but that most of them are Bukharin, and that as Sephardim, they are somewhat isolated.

I then went back to the hotel to nap, and this evening we went to a little cafe where I had a beef broth soup with cut up pancakes.

Tomorrow we go to Prater to ride the ferris wheel and see the Jewish quarter.

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