Thursday, June 13, 2019

Free Day

Yesterday was our free day, what I dub our “mental health day.”  It’s the halfway point in the study abroad trip and it follows one of the hardest days so far, our visit to Mauthausen.  Students can sleep in, do their laundry, go shopping, whatever they want.

The past two trips I’ve gone to Salzburg for the day, but it’s been a while since I’ve been to the art museums in Vienna and it was time to go back.  Several students expressed an interest in going to the Upper Belvedere Museum, so we went there.

Unfortunately, I turned right into the park when leaving the S-Bahn, not left into the park, and we walked about 30 minutes out of our way until I we realized we were going in the wrong direction.  We took a bus back to where we started and from there another tram to the museum.

To make it up to them for misdirecting them so badly, I personally treated the three students who came with me to the museum.  They loved the views and the elaborate rooms and the art.

The rest of the day, the students went off on their own. Two told me last night that they had gone to the Freud Museum, closed for renovations, in order to pick up some stuff at the gift shop. I’ll find out what the others did today at breakfast.

I went to buy new shoes as I’ve discovered a small hole in the top of one of my shoes.  Unfortunately, the prices were outrageous.  C and A had decent prices (20-30 euros), but no selection.  Footlocker’s prices started at 100 euros and went up from there.  I’ll wait until we’re in Poland and try again there.

After that, I needed a break from the heat and humidity, so stopped into Aida for some much needed kaffee und kuchen (specifically, a “mélange” and a “Eszterhazy Schnitte”), and to read the paper.

Refrshed, I headed to the Albertina, where I’ve seen some amazing stuff before.  The special exhibit was of an artist I had never heard of, and if I never hear of him again, it will be too soon.  Nitsch was a leader of my least-favorite post-war artistic movement:  Vienna Aktionismus.  This involves making art that rips open the diseased body of Western Civilization to reveal its rotting entrails, and thus, somehow, cure it of the illnesses that led to the wars and totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

Nitsch seems to have taken that literally, as he used (animal) blood in his paintings, sometimes ripping out organs with his hands (and his assistants’ hands) to smear it on the paintings.  Some of the rooms had warnings posted about violent images.  In his “brown series,” he used paint designed to look like excrement, smeared with actual blood.  I didn’t spend much time there.

Apparently, I’m no longer all that avant-garde, since I rushed upstairs to see the lovely exhibit “From Monet to Picasso.”  This collection specializes in post-impressionist color-theory art.  Each painting was a delight, with no (actual) blood or (faux) excrement to be seen. 

Perhaps my favorite, though, wasn’t even part of the primary exhibition.  For a limited time, two new rooms have been added with art on loan from the Austrian National Bank.  This art was labeled “The Austrian New Objectivity” – an interwar artistic movement, similar to the one in Germany – but the collection was far too eclectic to fit into that one description.  My favorite piece by far was Robert Kross’ “Terzetta.” 

They didn’t have much information on him or what the painting depicted or even what the title means.  The painting doesn’t much look like the German “New Objectivity” movement, but is rather more expressionist.  The painting depicts a woman dressed to the nines for a night on the town, her thin dress revealing much of her cleavage.  Her blonde hair is done up in the Jazz 1920s’ fashion, and she’s wearing long, elegant gloves.  What struck me, though, is that she isn’t a young woman going out on the town; she’s definitely middle aged, but she’s not going to let that stand in her way.  As far as she’s concerned, she’s just as beautiful, just as sexy as any 20-something flapper out in the clubs with her.  The lighting, which creates a halo around her face, is particularly dramatic.

I wandered around a bit afterwards, getting some pretty good schnitzel at the train station near the hotel.  I met two students in the lobby and heard about their day.  They were hungry and I wanted to get some buchteln at Café Hawelka, so we pooled our resources.  I sat with them and had a beer on the Graben, and then they joined me for coffee and buchteln at Café Hawelka.

One time I described buchteln as a kind of jelly doughnut and the waiter became indignent with me, so I was more careful this time.  “It’s a yeast-based dough filled with plum jam and then baked into pull-apart rolls.”  They aren’t all that sweet and they are particularly good when served fresh from the oven (as ours were).

Slept well last night and today we are off to the Jewish Museum, the Hapsburg out-of-town palace, and perhaps the Welt Museum before we take the night train to Warsaw.

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