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*
'I believe you've been waiting for this photo all your life'
My friend Adam Wahlberg posted this link, with the photo below, and the words above, on my Facebook page last night. I cracked up.
He knows I'm not a fan of either man—although I'd still take Jeter in a New York minute over W. I actually have admiration for Jeter. I just have no admiration for Jeter overadmiration, which is everywhere, even in Texas. Looking at the photo, I thought, all we need is “Transformers 2” playing in the background to complete the trifecta. My great big ICK of the first decade of the 21st century.
For more on these subjects, click the tags below.
In the meantime, what would your ICK trifecta look like?
Second 'Birdman" Trailer
I'm so there. I really hope it takes on all the crap it should take on—the obsessive, adolescent, wish-fulfillment fantasy of it all. Not just the sadness of his need but the sadness of our need. First trailer here. October 17.
Quote of the Day
“Stay gangster, Joe! I dig you, man.”
-- Unnamed student after Vice-President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address at the University of Delaware, May 2014, as reported in Evan Osnos' excellent New Yorker profile, “The Evolution of Joe Biden.” According to Osnos, after the shout, “Biden looked up, pleased but perplexed ... He waved and kept walking.” But I agree. I dig him, man.
Movie Review: The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912)
In the Mariners heyday in the mid-1990s, when the Seattle newspapers would print just about anything Mariners related, I remember a short piece about the players and guns: how many they owned, etc. Baseball players tend to be a conservative lot, and many of them are country boys, so there were quite a few hunting rifles mentioned. Most ballplayers are rich, too, at least at the MLB level, and so a few of these guys had guns for protection. Except one: Randy Johnson—he of the 99 mph fastball. He said he didn’t have a gun in his house; he just kept a bucket of baseballs by his bed. If someone broke in ...
“The Ball Player and the Bandit,” a 1912 one-reeler directed by Francis Ford, John’s older brother, anticipated the Big Unit by about 80 years.
Harry Burns (Harold Lockwood) is a good pitcher with a university team whose uncle comes into a bad way financially and can no longer send him to school. He suggests Harry go west to find work.
It’s the usual fish-out-of-water scenario. He shows up in a suit, clutching a handkerchief, sneezing at the dust, and with an aversion to guns. All the cowhands give him looks. He gets a job as an accountant, but even the little Annie Oakley there (Helen Case, looking a bit like Carol Kane) pokes fun at him. He stifles some of this abuse by winning a fistfight with a rival, but he’s still not completely trusted. He doesn’t like guns? The hell?
But he’s still trusted enough to pick up the payroll in town. Unfortunately, he’s followed by the titular bandit—as well as the girl, who pretends to be a masked robber. Even as she’s quickly revealed by Harry, the bandit appears, dressed in black, gun drawn, and grabs the payroll. Then he feels in Harry’s pockets to remove him of his guns. Except there are none. He only finds a baseball, which Harry’s old coach had just sent to him. Laughing, he drops it and leaves. At which point Harry picks up the baseball and beans the bandit in the back of the head. He and the girl truss him up, bring him back, Harry’s the hero.
It’s not much of a story. But it is fun to come across a Hollywood movie that doesn’t glorify guns the way 99% of Hollywood movies do. Add it to the list, including “Destry Rides Again,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Superman and the Mole Men,” and ... and ....
Rick Perlstein on the Rise of Reagan
Author Rick Perlstein's new book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” which will be published this fall, is part of his series of books on the rise of the conservative right in this country. I've read the first and most of the second and plan on reading this one, too. Besides the history, it will probably spark a lot of memories, since 1972 to 1976, when I was 9 to 13, were wheelhouse years for my memory.
As part of the promo, and maybe just for general edification for folks who don't read, Perlstein has done a YouTube “History in Five” piece on the rise of Reagan. Think about the lesson as you're watching. What did Reagan believe that others didn't? I'll put my answer in the comments section.
Quote of the Day
“William Bendix, who played the Babe in 'The Babe Ruth Story' is my personal favorite [actor who played Babe Ruth], for nostalgic reasons. I first saw the movie with my dad, who was a sucker for this kind of schmaltz. And it’s a fun movie to watch, with just the slightest hint of authenticity—Bendix was a Yankees batboy during Ruth’s prime years in the 1920s. In the movie, his over-the-top, obstinate pointing to outer space (as opposed to center field) before hitting the famous 1932 'called shot' home run against the Cubs in the World Series is hilarious. The pitch Bendix hits comes down like a slow-pitch softball floater, and his uppercut would have made Mike Tyson proud.”
-- Jerry Grillo, “Babe as Babe: Nobody does it better,” as he sorts through the various actors who played Babe Ruth and goes with an inspired choice.
Here, Babe Ruth shows William Bendix how to swing ... or gets ready to kneecap him.
Movie Review: Ida (2014)
“Ida” is a spare, quiet, beautiful film, photographed in black-and-white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, about a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who discovers a dark secret about her family’s past during World War II.
It’s also the best road-trip movie I’ve seen in years.
“You’re a funny couple,” says Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), a young, handsome alto-sax player whom Anna and her aunt Wanda (Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza), pick up hitch-hiking. “My Aunt and me?” Anna responds. “I know.”
They’re funny ha-ha and not. Because they’re searching for unmarked graves. They’re searching for the bodies of Anna’s parents.
Road-trip movies are all about tossing together opposites, and “Ida” is no different, but on a deeper level. I think of Wanda as having lived through the middle of the 20th century—Depression, World War II, totalitariansm—and having absorbed its horrible lessons: there is no God, and there is no secular human progress. So what do you do then? What do you cling to? Wanda had communism for a while, and a rise to power in the 1950s, but now she simply distracts herself from the vast, absurd emptiness with booze, sex, and a wicked tongue.
The movie opens in a convent, where Anna, who has a spare, unadorned beauty that fits the film, is cleaning and restoring (one might say resurrecting) a statue of Jesus. She is also preparing to take her vows. Then the nuns tell her that her sole living relative, Wanda, living in Lodz, has finally responded to their queries. She should go see her. She does so, reluctantly, but with open eyes.
At Wanda’s place, the dark family secret is revealed quickly, and it’s less dark than tragic. Anna isn’t Anna but Ida Lebenstein. She and Wanda are the only ones left in their family because they’re Jewish and it’s post-World War II Poland.
At first it’s enough for Wanda to say all this and send her niece back. But she finds herself transfixed by Anna’s resemblance to her own sister, and she heads her off at the train station. She wants to bond with her. Or convert her? But to what? A prosecutor in the Stalinist era and now a judge, Wanda wants to find out what happened to Ida’s parents and bring their bones back, but she warns Anna about going along: “What if you go and discover there is no God?”
At the same time, she enjoys teasing her niece.
Wanda: Do you have sinful thoughts sometimes?
Wanda: About carnal matters?
Wanda: That’s a shame.
They first travel to the isolated farmhouse where the Lebensteins once lived. A Polish family, headed by Feliks (Adam Szyszkowski), now lives there, and he’s suspicious of all strangers but Wanda in particular:
Wanda: Did you know the Lebensteins? They lived here before the war.
Wanda: No, Eskimos.
But they’re respectful to Anna, scarved as a novitiate nun, and for a time I thought that would be the plan: send in beatific Anna, alone, to get the answers, which Wanda, a Jewish prosecutor, could not. Instead they follow Wanda’s lead and visit Feliks’ father, dying in a hospital, and go to a nightclub, where Lis, their alto-sax guy, is playing jazz. Wanda drinks too much, fools around, defends herself to a silent Anna. “This Jesus of yours, he adored people like me,” she says. The closer they get to an answer, the more Wanda seems to unravel.
The search doesn’t go much further than Feliks and his father, because it doesn’t need to. Feliks is responsible. He killed the Lebensteins for their home because he could. In exchange for leaving his dying father alone, he takes Anna and Wanda into the woods and unearths the bodies. There, Anna/Ida learns she had an older brother. “The boy was dark and circumcized,” she’s told. “You were tiny.” Thus she lives; thus he died. It’s that.
“Ida” is written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (“The Woman in the Fifth”), and photographed by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, who have won awards all over the place for it—including the Spotlight Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. It truly is a gorgeous movie. Several shots stand out, none more than the last. There’s not a frame of the movie I didn’t like.
The road trip is great, but what makes “Ida” one of the best movies of the year is what happens afterwards. At the start, Anna has absolute faith, Wanda has none. So what happens? Anna returns to the convent but her faith isn’t absolute anymore. During a meal, she suddenly bursts out laughing—we don’t know why—and shortly after she speaks with the statue of Jesus. “I’m not ready,” she tells him. “Forgive me.”
The effect of the trip is worse on Wanda. Nothing is restored for her, more is simply lost. Maybe what kept her going all of these years was the mystery, and now even that’s gone. One day she’s cleaning the apartment, listening to Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, and suddenly she jumps out the open window. The camera stays. The music keeps playing to an empty house.
Ida comes for the funeral and hooks up with Lis. In bed, he talks of the life they’ll live together. They’ll have kids, buy a house, raise a family. “And then?” she keeps saying. “And then?” He’s offering her a good life but before the trip she had an eternal life. Now, not. Now there’s just “And then?” She can’t be on the eternal path but she doesn’t know which path to take. The final shots see her walking a road against the sparse traffic, her path uneven, unstable, the camera suddenly jerky. It’s our path.
Quote of the Day
“We are only allowed to live one life: it’s the human condition, there’s no escaping it. In my view, only by studying the humanities can we hope to escape this fundamental limitation and understand how other people live. Because literature, history, or philosophy all provide extraordinary windows on the world. Foreign languages, too, are fundamental.
”The French language gave me an entrée into another culture. It allowed me to discover different means of expression, a different way of life, different values, a different system of thought. Because when you’re a judge and you spend your whole day in front of a computer screen, it’s important to be able to imagine what other people’s lives might be like, lives that your decisions will affect. People who are not only different from you, but also very different from each other. So, yes, reading is a very good thing for a judge to do. Reading makes a judge capable of projecting himself into the lives of others, lives that have nothing in common with his own, even lives in completely different eras or cultures. And this empathy, this ability to envision the practical consequences on one’s contemporaries of a law or a legal decision, seems to me to a crucial quality in a judge.“
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, ”On Reading Proust," interviewed in The New York Review of Books, Nov. 2013. The interview was originally conducted in French and published in La Revue des Deux Mondes in Paris as part of a special issue entitled “Proust vu d’Amérique.”
- It's worth reading every word of Tim Egan's post about the sheer legal and political idiocy of John Boehner's lawsuit against Pres. Obama. Make them pay, folks. Because right now it looks like they'll be rewarded instead.
- First we had a documentary on Jodorowsky's unmade “Dune.” Now a documentary on Tim Burton's unmade “Superman” movie from the 1990s starring Nicolas Cage? How many other documentaries from other unmade sci-fi/fantasy movies can we make? Maybe we should just not make sci-fi/fantasy movies so we can make the documentaries about the movies that were never made. Why not? The movie itself usually disappoints, while the unmade movie holds the chance at being glorious.
- Indiewire presents: The History of Sex on Film in Infographic Form. Not very graphic or informative, unfortunately. I.e., there's not much there I didn't know.
- My friend Jerry Grillo breaks down the actors who played Babe Ruth and asks “Who was the best?”
- This past week the Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown) changed its voting rules so that eligible players who don't make the 75% cut but do get at least 5% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) can only remain on the ballot for 10 years instead of 15 years. Why the change? Joe Posnanski ruminates over four theories. (Hint: It has less to do with the players than with the BBWAA.)
- No one has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 100% of the vote—not Babe Ruth (95.13%), Ted Williams (93.38%), Willie Mays (94.68%) or Hank Aaron (97.83%)—but Tom Seaver, who has received the highest voting percentage ever (98.84%), thinks that the first unanimous Hall of Famer should be ... Derek Jeter. Right. Not Ken Griffey Jr. or Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez; Derek Effin' Jeter. Because the poor guy just doesn't get enough attention. I barely knew he was at the All-Star Game earlier this month, for example.
- With all due respect to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, Roger Angell is my Hall of Famer.
According to Jerry Grillo (and most of us concur), here's the actor who played Babe Ruth best.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard