Thursday, 11 March 2010

Vienna in an unseasonably cold March. Moni met us at the airport, and whisked us through the traffic on a circular tour round the rings of the city. Here were the medieval walls, here a strip of land which no-one could build on (so convenient for a modern road), here a palace, here an underground river, here a museum, etc etc.
a whirl.
Near her house in a quiet leafy sidestreet behind Schonbrunn, we see the huge back garden of her mother's house – the remains of a vineyard. Moni is a psychotherapist, and lives and works in one of the many late 19th century buildings which clustered round Viennna as it spread out from the centre. Her apartment has only in the last week taken in three large rooms from a neighbour who moved out. Her daughters will have bedrooms of their own now. She cooks a huge pile of Wiener Schnitzel for us, with potatoes and salad. Her 7 year old daughter joins us, and her mother. In the garden a pair of ravens stalk the play-equipment.
We are sleeping in a charming studio flat, converted by Moni and her husband to provide guest space – a chandelier, a brick cabin in the corner with the bathroom below and a second sleeping space above, a mirror-fronted wardrobe. We are diverted from buying our own provisions, as Moni will supply us with breakfast.
Her mother Willi is brisk and tall, and invites us to her apartment round the corner, an extensive and beautifully furnished flat with fantastic chandeliers, Biedermeyer furniture in the dining room, Austrian silver ornaments which she says she has collected over the years but prefers 'plain English silver'), fabulous inlaid and curved cabinets, and a maid polishing shoes.
Willi then drives us down into the city, giving us 45 minutes to see Freud's apartment... How marvellous a place. Still with a scent of the man if you will... He walked up this stone staircase, this was his front door... Here is his hallway, left more or less as it was in 1938 when he fled with his family, his books, his collections, that famous couch, and his mighty intelligence. Here is his consulting room, bare now but with photos of how it used to look set up around the lower part of the display cases along the walls. Here is his study with a mirror hanging on the window catch as he used to have it – sent back by Anna Freud in 1971 when this little shrine was being set up.

We escape from our minder to wander round a Billa supermarket, go into a charity shop where she fails to recognise us, and and then meet up officially.
She takes us to an art show – still life gone mad. Paintings and installations from every era explore the whole concept of Vanitas, the sacred and profane, our relationship with food, sex, life and death. The show is wonderful, especially two early VvG's which shine across the room with their power even before you have read the label. The only English language interpretation is a set of panels, one for each room, with portentous translations from German, in the kind of language which used to keep in awe of intellectualism when I was younger.
Then, coffee, cakes, a stroll round the square, a dip into the huge dark St Stephens Dom where they are getting ready for mass. It's very like going into St Patrick's in Manhattan, all bustle and fun. Most people cross themselves on coming into the church, and quite a large proportion dip in a devout curtsey too. The bells are ringing, and then the organ starts and a tiny gaggle of choristers are marshalled up and out of sight towards the chancel,
We have more coffee, and then make our way to the Musikverein for a concert of Beethoven and Stravinsky – all gold and glamour, hundreds of naked caryatids and lolling will have seen it from New Year's Day on tv. Marvellous music, rapt audience including lots of Japanese people. Willi seemed to know half the well-heeled audience. She told them we are English and going to visit some friends in Attnang-Puchheim on Sunday. Every time, they guffawed with amused laughter. But, they said, it´s just a railway junction.
Finally, we go for supper at an hotel where the concert ticket allows you a glass of champagne and a salad buffet for 14 euros. Willi who seemed to know everyone at the concert, drives us home and we collapse into our stable studio. Now, on our first full morning, it is snowing outside. We venture out, for breakfasst up the road.

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