Sunday, 14 March 2010

Vienna 3

Written on Saturday night, so a bit of a jump since the last missive. We spent Friday morning walking round the freezing city on a private sightseeing tour. One immaculate older gentleman stopped to ask if we needed help as we stood in the Graben looking at the buildings.

We peeped into St Peter's church, a violent mass of baroque decoration, absolutely amazing to anyone used to sober northern protestant church interiors.

We went to see a little museum called the Neidhart Frescoes – about 20 years ago, someone was doing up a flat and found these amazing medieval wallpaintings which turned out to be the decorations for a merchant's hall. The whole building had been subsequently altered with floors, stairs, chimneys etc inserted and these treasures quite unsuspected. The scenes are ribald and humorous – a snowball fight, violent pranks, a maiden being deflowered... all done in clear colours, and lively. Beneath these scenes and all around the painter showed a kind of tapestry hanging up, so even though the whole art work is now fragmented and the floor levels are all wrong, you can still imagine yourself in this old hall, with the delighted owner showing off his brilliant murals to his guests, an antidote to the piety and strict order required no doubt by the church and the city burghers.

We walked round the Hoher Markt, where the Romans had had their base and with Marcus Aurelius still celebrated in the street name. We looked with wonder at the fantastic Jungend Stil clock forming an arch between two buildings. We wandered further and called into the tiny narrow and beautiful church of St Mary on the Bank, just as mass was about to start, so we had an introit on the organ, and watched the half dozen or so parishioners gathering themselves for the devotions to come. We tried to get into the oldest church in the city, St Ruprecht's, but as we had been warned, it was closed. A policeman eyed us dourly as we tried and failed to open the door. The empty piece of land immediately below this Romanesque marvel was the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and in the street on the other side, the old Jewish quarter, where the synagogue today still has huge security devices inside the front door.

We found an internet cafe back at the Hoher Markt, where in fact we loaded up the last bulletin, and drank coffees known here as Melosch... very like cappucinos in fact. Eventually we had lunch in a kind of self-service cafeteria, where the plates were weighed before being priced. Coffee and cakes followed in a super little cafe along the street, where the chandeliers were decorated with extra coffee cups, or with goldplated spoons, forks and knives.

My conference was – is – one of those events which only an insider would truly appreciate. There are nearly 4000 delegates of which only 11 are from the UK. It's all very hightech and smooth and rather fun, We have had excellent speakers and lots of enthusiasm. The whole ethos of looking at the science and making a rational choice is absolutely accepted. The big announcements have been the launch of the world's first live online TV programme supported by one company (breathtaking, actually, see Juice Plus TV, but it's mostly in German of course), and the announcement of a whole new raft of research papers: about gum health, quality of life for cancer survivors, pregnancy outcomes, and more.
Andrew spent the time in the Prater, and today at the Technical Museum and tonight we took our kindly host family out for a meal at an Italian restaurant where the auslander (foreign, ie Arabic) waiter called me 'senorita' all night, which was international if not authentic.

Tomorrow I shall go to the last part of the conference, then we catch a train out west to see Edith, and where I hope we can put this bulletin up onto the blog. Here in our stable we barely have radio and certainly no internet connection but we are very happy as it is a sweet little studio in a lovely district, and we are having a nice time. Andrew is reading The Catcher in the Rye, and I am reading the autobiography of James Cameron, the late lamented of the funniest and best books I've read for a long time though shot through with powerful tristesse and insights. We are warm, and it is really very very cold outside, with snow falling in tiny occasional spatterings, as if to remind us who's boss.

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