Travels postsSaturday March 21, 2015
Welcome to New York, Ya Schnook
A week ago Saturday I landed at JFK Airport after our flight circled for 45 minutes. Visibility issues. We didn’t come out of the clouds until we were maybe 40 feet from the ground.
Last time I landed at JFK—a year ago—I had to wait around for more than an hour before my luggage showed up, so on this flight I didn’t check baggage. Did the overhead compartment thing that everybody does.
(Sidenote: I don’t really get the economics of airlines. Why should passengers have to pay to check bags, which seems to inconvenience no one but yourself, but get to carry on big honking things, which inconveniences everyone? It makes boarding take longer, exiting take longer, requires more work from flight attendants. Shouldn’t airlines be doing the opposite of what they do?)
Anyway I was practically whistling a tune as I was wheeling my luggage through JFK. Before I knew it I was outside, spotted the taxi cabs, and was heading in that direction when a voice interrupted my thoughts. “You want a cab?” I looked over. “Yeah,” I said. “Follow me,” he said. I assumed we would head toward the yellow cabs, but we went past them toward the parking lot. Were there cabs there, too? I wondered. But we didn’t stop at a yellow cab. We stopped at an SUV-type vehicle.
“This isn’t a cab,” I said.
“It is a cab,” he insisted.
“Seventy-nine dollars plus tunnel fee.”
I was thinking, “I thought Patricia said there was like a flat fee of $50 for cabfare from JFK.” But for some reason I let the momentum carry me along.
That could be the mantra (or lesson) of my life, by the way: For some reason I let the momentum carry me along.
To be honest, I didn’t fully realize what I’d done until we were in traffic. That’s when I looked around, noticed no meter, no official anything, and realized, “I just got into the car of a complete stranger at JFK Airport.”
The dude got me where I needed to go but for almost double what it should have cost me. I don’t know if he was a different branch of cabdriver or if I just got took like a schnook. I assume the latter. It was so disheartening it took me three days to share the story with Patricia.
Trailer: 'Knight of Cups' is Terrence Malick's '8 1/2' and 'La Dolce Vita'
Or has aspects of each anyway: the director who's lost his way, the journalist who's lost his soul.
“Knight of Cups” is apparently a Tarot card. From Wiki the wicked:
If the card is upright, it represents change and new excitements, particularly of a romantic nature. It can mean invitations, opportunities, and offers. The Knight of Cups is a person who is a bringer of ideas, opportunities and offers. He is constantly bored, and in constant need of stimulation, but also artistic and refined. He represents a person who is amiable, intelligent, and full of high principles, but a dreamer who can be easily persuaded or discouraged.
Reversed, the card represents unreliability and recklessness. It indicates fraud, false promises and trickery. It represents a person who has trouble discerning when and where the truth ends and lies begin.
One assumes the creative one is Malick, easily persuaded, easily made unreliable and reckless, by Hollywood in the ... '70s? “Let me tell you about you” means “I'll make you the you I think you are, while you lose you in the process.”
Of course, we all lose you in the process, don't we?
But thank God for the conflict. Otherwise it looks too much like “To the Wonder,” and that's Malick's weakest film. Bale is Affleck (Batman bros), and Portman, Poots and Blanchett are some combination of Kurylenko and McAdams.
Another concern: No script. It was all improvised. Malick is disappearing down the hole of his own creativity and he's either going to bring back something amazing, or drown.
Sheets again, too. They're replacing wheat.
“All of those years ... living the life of someone ... I didn't even know.”
SLIDESHOW: The Late, Great, 2014 Minnesota State Fair
SLIDESHOW: It's dollars to donuts (or french fries ... or pronto pups ... or all-you-can-drink milk ...) that our state fair/ Is the best state fair in our state. P and I slipped out of Washington last week to visit family in Minnesota and attend the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday. We wound up being part of a record-setting crowd that day: 252,092.
Why do I love the Minnesota State Fair so much, less so the Washington version? Is it nostalgia? Giant Slide? Pronto Pup? Root beer? I'm guessing nostalgia has a lot to do with it but the Minnesota version simply could be better.
One of my first stops. You call it corn dog; we call it pronto pup.
In the Agriculture Building, P and I were won over less by the corn art than by the artistry of old feedbags.
P and Jordy rock out to “Twist and Shout” at the Giant Singalong, a new (perhaps “Glee”-inspired?) addition. Cost? Nuttin.
You know the Paul Westerberg song “Skyway”? That kept playing in my head as we stood in line to board the Skyride. Except my version went “I'll take the Skyride/ High above the Twinkies being deep-fried ...” That's one thing I didn't get, by the way: something deep-fried. I wanted something really, really bad for me. Next time.
The best part of the Skyride was less the view than just getting away from the crowds for 60 seconds.
Yeah, these guys.
Here's the Giant Slide from the Skyride ...
... and here it is after my dismount.
P, who will go on any roller coaster in the world, the crazier the better, refused to enter this fairly sedate maze/treasure hunt. She says they scare her.
Milk is big in the Midwest.
The Dairy Building girls. Oh, and 1 boy. I recommend the chocolate malt.
We also saw one of the dairy queens being sculpted in butter.
Ye Old Mill is a ride in the dark in a rickety little boat that takes you past decades-old dioramas that don't make much sense anymore (leprechans; three little pigs). So it's appropriate that the Minnesota GOP (rebranded “Growth & Opportunity Party”) is right next door.
Just a reminder where all of those french fries go.
The Midway at 5 pm. Still packed. When are these people going to leave?
That's about the time we arrived at the Grandstand for Music-on-a-stick. The music? Eh. But it was nice to sit down for a while
The view from the Grandstand.
Whirly girly gig, who can stop this kid?
I mean this one. Ryan's 11th-hour attempt at winning stuffed animals came to naught. So did my attempts to win something for him. I did blast two of the three superheavy milk bottles down with a baseball, but the only consolation prize I got was the fact that the ticket taker/barker immediately shooed me away. As if I were a threat. In my mind it was a kind of victory.
EuroTrip 2014: Where is The Third Man Museum?
We were only in Vienna two full days, and our last full day began poorly but ended well. After breakfast we started walking toward the Kunsthistorisches Museum but realized—again, standing by the Hofburg Palace—that it didn’t open for another hour. So what to do in the meantime? At this point it got a little “Marty”: “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know, what do you wanna do?” P had done the research, knew what she wanted to see, I hadn’t and didn’t, and she was a little tired of leading the way. In the end, we decided to see something I wanted to see: Schreyvogelgasse 8. The doorway where Harry Lime first appears in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”
It took us to a part of town we hadn’t walked before—westish—where it felt less touristy. It felt like people were rushing to work rather than to museums. Along the way, P spotted a café with insane looking pastries, Café Central, but we’d just had breakfast so we simply made a mental note to return. We missed one block, then another, but eventually, clumsily, we found ourselves at the doorway. Was it the doorway? There was no plaque. It was just ... there.
P was also tired having her picture taken and never getting to take mine. So here she reversed it. Get in that doorway, she said. I obliged. I tried to do the Harry Lime look, the amused, amoral “Aren’t I clever?” look he gives Holly Martins after being discovered in the shadows. We tried once, twice, maybe 10 times. My eyes watered from the effort. That shit’s tough. Then we switched places and P didn’t try for the Lime look. She just owned the doorway. “One-take Patricia.”
Is there karmic serendipity in giving up what you want for what someone else wants? Early in their relationship, my sister left her job in D.C. to follow her then-boyfriend down to Atlanta, but got a better job as a result. A few years later, after they were married, she got an even better job offer in Detroit so he followed her there ... where he got a better job as a result. Something similar happened to us that morning. P went to the “Third Man” doorway for me, but found, half a block away, at Ludwig Reiter, the purse she’d been searching for all over Europe. The shop wasn’t open yet—when do the Viennese rise, anyway?—but she made a mental note to return. We left the area full of mental notes and digital photos.
We didn’t approach the doorway for the Kunsthistorisches Museum—across the plaza from yesterday’s Naturhistorisches Museum—until it was nearly 10:00, by which time a small line for tickets had formed. We got in it. And waited. And waited. And didn’t move. I got out of line to see what the hold-up was, and wound up conferring with another dude, a math professor from Brazil, both of us marveling at the remarkable inefficiency of the Austrians. Here we all were at the biggest art gallery in one of Europe’s biggest cities at the beginning of summer, and they had ... one ticket seller behind one glass booth? Really? In some ways it was comforting: a stereotype buster. Here was another: my guy from Brazil wasn’t particularly interested in the 2014 World Cup, which was still in its middle rounds at that point. Probably good for him in the long run, considering.
We spent several hours at the Kunsthistorische—P is all about the Dutch Masters—then had lunch, then split up again for the afternoon. She wanted to stay, I wanted to check out a museum to “The Third Man.”
My trip got muddled quickly. Most of the maps we had ended a few blocks south of the Ringstrasse, but the Third Man Museum was a few blocks south of that. Plus I got lost. Or misdirected. I convinced myself I was going in the wrong direction but wasn’t. I kept trodding over the same territory and felt the panic of missing out. P was seeing tons of art while I was wasting my time here! That panic of missing out, of not taking advantage of my surroundings, followed me, in varying degrees, throughout the vacation. To be honest, all vacations. It’s why it’s almost a relief when the vacation ends. You can get back to work and relax a bit.
To get to the Third Man Museum, I eventually realized, I had to cross over the Naschmarkt, with all of its goodies (“Patricia should really see this,” I thought), and the two busy streets on either side. Serendipitously, I wound up on Pressgasse, the street I needed to be on, and kept walking. A block later, after what seemed like hours walking around blind (it was probably a half hour at most), I finally spotted the museum on the corner of Pressgasse and Mühlgasse. It looked small and nondescript. It also didn’t look very busy. As I approached I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that was confirmed when I got close: “Closed.” The fuck? “Saturdays: 2-6 PM.” One day? It was only open one day? For four hours? Shouldn’t the guidebook have mentioned something like that? I rechecked it and found out it did—although it also mentioned Tuesdays. So instead of indulging in the bits and pieces of Carol Reed’s classic, I took a few pictures from the outside. In my head, I kept hearing Calloway’s dismissive advice to the idiot American abroad: Go home, Martins.
It took a while to find my way back to the Ringstrasse and the Kartnerstrasse, and once I did, and felt less tense (it was partly the hectic traffic outside the Ringstrasse), I wandered a bit, bought P macaroons at a small, snooty shop near our pension, then returned to our room and rested there for a moment. But there was no rest. The panic returned. In a day I wouldn’t be in Vienna! I was wasting my time! So I bounded out again—quickly, quickly—and visited Mozart’s residence on the other side of the Stephansdom. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. Near the end, P phoned. She said she was on the other side of the Hofburg Palace and they weren’t letting anyone through because there were cops everywhere because Vladimir Putin was in town. Putin? I was missing out! I rushed over ... and found P on this side of the Hofburg Palace, on Kohlmarkt, not at all blocked off by the many cops there. She was just confused. She had a new purse with her, too, from Ludweig Reiter, which she loved, but less so the designer. He also made shoes and when she inquired if he had any in her size, size 11, his reaction was a dimissive laugh. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “we never have them in that size.”
For dinner, we went north, up the Rotenturmstrasse until we hit the Wien river, then along the river and up some steps to St. Rupert’s Church. This was a quiet area, and there seemed to be a few students around. Did I think that because of the name of the pub we stopped at for a drink? The Philosoph? It was the old Jewish section of town. It felt relaxing. For some reason, it’s a highlight in my memory. Sitting at the Philosoph, on Judengasse, enjoying a cold beer, an Ottakringer, in the magic-hour light before dinner. For a moment, I didn’t feel like I had to be anywhere else.
SLIDESHOW: WHERE IS THE THIRD MAN MUSEUM?
SLIDESHOW: In cultural terms, Vienna first meant John Irving to me, but increasingly it meant “The Third Man,” Carol Reed's classic, zippy, zithery, post-WWII noir from 1949. I still think it's one of the best movies ever made. And the first time you see the titular character? It was in this doorway at 8 Schreyvogelgasse.
This is the look Harry Lime (Orson Welles) gives his friend Holly Martins upon being discovered.
And this is my attempt. Probably my 10th attempt. I know: Go home, Martins.
P, touring Vienna but thinking of custom-made purses.
Outside the Kunsthistorisches Musuem.
And inside. First, P looks at the paintings within paintings ...
... then it's as if she's stepped into her own version.
Lunch at the Kunsthistorisches Musuem. It'll do.
On the way to The Third Man museum, I ran into my patron saint.
And here it is! Finally! After all this time!
But of course ... “Goodness, that's awkward.”
Mozart's house in Vienna, on the back side of Stephansdom.
We saw a bunch of these in Europe, sadly. Two hands, buddy.
Worst. Shakespeare. Ever.
Saw a bunch of these, too. Nice to know good American movies get over there along with the superheroes.
End of day thoughts.
Who could ask for anything more?
Eurotrip 2014: Stephansdom, Ringstrasse, Naturhistorisches, Gasthaus
I’ll confess: This was the first trip I felt old. Not because I couldn’t walk the walk but because I couldn’t read the map. The guidebook maps in particular. I’d look at them, blink, pull the book away, try to adjust to the proper range. “Hey, they made this print too small. They need to ...” Then the other shoe. “Oh. Shit.” I went through the three stages of farsightedness: annoyance, realization, acceptance. Will scope out readers soon. Because carrying around two pairs of glasses just isn’t enough.
The Pension Neuer Markt, where we stayed in Vienna, and which always made me think of John Irving’s Pension Grillparzer—but without the bear and with a much better bathtub—offered, as had the Hotel Meteor in Prague, a breakfast buffet, in a cramped but elegant (but slightly frayed) dining area. We ate there every morning, and every morning when we returned to our room it had been cleaned. I assume, when we ordered coffee and they asked for our room number, that they relayed this information to the cleaning service, who went to work. However they did it, it felt efficient.
We were efficient on our first full day in Vienna. We shot the works at Stephansdom: bought the pass for the audioguide, catacombs, south tower, north tower and treasure. I did it all but the north tower, while P traded catacombs for art later in the day. How old is Stephansdom? Work began on it in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. Think about that. When Mozart was married at Stephansdom, when he lived a block away, it was already, at that time, nearly 500 years old.
After the audioguide tour and the south tower climb, fighting for space in the narrow stone stairs with hordes of kids on field trips, we ran into different versions of Wolfgang Amadeus selling opera tickets along the Stephansplatz. After our great experience at the Municipal House in Prague, we were interested in hearing music again, so I bought a pair of cheap tickets from a short, fat Mozart for about as much as it cost to shoot the works at Stephansdom. It was just money, right? Euros. Like play money. You just spend it. It’s there to be spent. The bill arrived recently. Oops.
Since we missed the #22 tram in Prague, P was interested in taking the Red City bus tour along the Ringstrasse to get a better overview of the city, which we did, meeting, along the way, a ticket seller from Spain, who admitted he wasn’t a big fan of German food. But the place across the street, he said, was good. We remembered the location more than the name: Plachutta: Gasthuas zur Oper.
We had no Wenceslases on this tour, just an audio guide, as we sat in the sun on the top deck of the bus. We didn’t stay long. Patricia, with a penchant for taxidermy, had us get off at the Naturhistorisches Museum, with its small elephant statue in front and a Noah’s Ark full of stuffed and mounted animals inside. The hallway was cavernous, the exhibits never-ending, Patricia in heaven. It was also fairly empty of tourists. Most people don’t go to Vienna for the taxidermy. But you could tell, 100 years ago, that this was the thing to do: to collect and preserve different and exotic species for display for the masses. Back then, the exotic was natural and from some far-flung place on the globe. Now it’s some two-dimensional phantasm, occasionally with 3-D glasses.. We also saw a good, frightening exhibit on “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.”
After lunch at the museum, and the remainder of the Ringstrasse tour (there’s a Franz Grillparzer Street!), we wanted coffee, so stopped at the outdoor Mozart Café of the Sacher Hotel. P had talked all day about getting a Sachertorte, which, to my non-foodie ears, sounded like “soccer torte.” It was fine but not something to travel to Vienna for. Meanwhile, I wanted a simple iced coffee but wound up with some distinctly Viennese concoction. It rose up in the glass, impossibly white and fluffy, with various cookies stuck into it. If I must.
Traveling together as a couple is a bit of a test. You wake up together, eat together, plan together, walk together, visit the same things together, eat together again. For dinner one night, we sat down, looked over the menu, ordered, looked at each other. Silence. Finally I broke it. “So how was your day?” I asked. That’s why it’s always a good idea to split up every now and again, which we did that afternoon. P wanted to see the Durer exhibit at the Albertina, and I walked her there. Of course, us being us, we got lost. We walked as far as the Hofburg before she realized her mistake and backtracked. I stuck around there, though, basically kicking stones and taking pictures and going my own way.
Ten minutes later my phone rang—my first call in Europe! Patricia, of course. She said I just had to see the steps at the Albertina. Plus, right next to the Albertina, was a museum to film, which I needed to check out, too. So I walked over, saw Durer’s rabbit painted on the steps, entered the sedate Film Museum. But the name was a misnomer. It was basically a movie theater that showed art films in the evenings. The good news? On the way back to Stephansdom I saw a relief of Franz Grillparzer. See slideshow below.
It was a hot afternoon and so a tour of the catacombs at Stephansdom sounded like a good idea. An hour later, after spending time walking down cool stone steps in cool hallways and viewing the bones of the victims of centuries-old pestilence, I emerged into Stephansplatz, where P, waiting, was full of stories. Together we toured the Treasures section of St. Stephens, which included many reliquaries, of which P, a good, wayward Catholic girl, was a fan. For dinner, we followed the advice of our Spanish tour guide (the gasthaus near the Opera) and didn’t regret it. I regretted the opera a bit. It wasn’t the national opera, near the gasthaus, but a few blocks further south: “Mostly Mozart.” Crowded and kitschy. They let the tourists on stage, sitting there in their shorts, which P thought a bit gauche. Or at least linke. But the music was good. As in Prague, a lot of “Magic Flute.”
SLIDESHOW: Stephansdom in all its splendor. OK, some of its splendor. OK, just a bit of its splendor. It's impossible to catch all of it. It was built in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. By the time Mozart got married here, it was nearly 500 years old.
P: the good, wayward Catholic girl, forever lighting candles.
Climbing the south tower. We battled a lot of field trips along the way.
This was one of them. Stephansplatz, Stephansschmlatz. They made their own fun.
Our Mostly Mozart guy.
Biking in Vienna. A bit more civilized than in Seattle. It was actually warm this day, despite the look.
Ringstrasse from atop the Red City tour bus. We didn't stay long because ...
P had to see the Naturhistorisches Musuem. With friend outside.
Naturhistorisches Musuem. They could really tone down the splenor one time. To make the other museums feel better.
P and the birds. A better encounter than this one.
P meets the beetles.
Has anyone seen this Hans Hass film? More on the man here.
In the afternoon, P went here and was thrilled.
I saw this and was thrilled.
Stephansdom again from the Treasures room.
Checking out the triptychs.
Mostly Mozart: crowded and kitschy, but with a beat we could dance to. Glad we didn't go for the stage seats. *FIN*