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Monday, October 31, 2011


Yes, the pun is stupid. But apropos, as today is Halloween! Boo.


Last year at this time, I was in Prague. We get a number of days off at the end of October in Austria, because not only is the Austrian national holiday on October 26, but because Austria is also a historically Catholic nation, All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day are also holidays - and because this year they land on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, we get Halloween off as well! 

Recently, I was asked to do a PowerPoint presentation on Halloween for the 2nd Form (roughly American 6th grade) and I found many interesting facts about Halloween in America as well as the historical significance of the holiday, among which include that Halloween is the #2 commercial holiday in the United States, the higher prevalence of "trunk-or-treating" (where overprotective parents can control where their kids get Halloween candy) and that no one really knows where Halloween comes from, but the top guesses historians have are 1) the Celtic festival of Samhain and 2) the Roman festival of Parentalia. My favorite part of Halloween used to be the candy. But, well, now being more mature and adult, I'd have to say I prefer the historical aspects. But my absolute favorite part is the idea that the earthly realm and the spirit world are closest between October 31 and November 1. And it's easier to tell the future with things like tarot cards and other types of fortune telling.

And here is my favorite animated piece set to music, which always reminds me of Halloween, and a little bit of Austria, too:

Night on Bald Mountain, Fantasia (1940)

Being in Vienna this year, I wonder what will be different. Of course, I'm not expecting too many trick-or-treaters, nor will I be going to the Geisterschloss  but I will be attending a costume party, and that will be in the spirit of things, so to speak.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Another one of those "found gems" i.e. found in my apartment, Love is a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, a cousin and contemporary of Katherine Mansfield.

Very Mansfield-esque for fans of her work (though von Arnim was also quite popular and widely read in her lifetime as well), the novel is about a woman and a man who share a love of The Immortal Hour, having seen the play nine times and thirty-six times, respectively. They fall in love despite social norms: she is forty-seven, he twenty-five. She is also the mother of a married woman (only nineteen, but still), and a soon-to-be grandmother.

But this love reaches across boundaries and social norms. Christopher loves Catherine determinedly, and she becomes enveloped in his love, just by the act of his loving her. Although during their courtship (one could say stalking on Christopher's part), Catherine think he is just a silly little boy, until she goes to visit her daughter (actually to escape Christopher). Once there, she realizes that her daughter and new son-in-law - actually older than Catherine at forty-nine - who are seemingly full of love, have no room for her. And his mother is a buzzard who makes things practically impossible for Catherine.

She basically goes running back into Christopher's arms.

However, since there is such talk among their acquaintances once they marry, Catherine feels she has to keep up with Christopher age-wise and invests in expensive hair and facial treatments to make her look younger. Ultimately, she looks haggard and decrepit without them, to Christopher's horror. He had never before noticed how much older she was than he, when she left well enough alone.

Actually, according to the afterward, the novel was based on an affair von Arnim had with a much younger man, Michael Frere. When they met in 1920, she was fifty-four and he twenty-four. Their affair was torrid, and though they did not last long as lovers, she helped him to hone his writing abilities and got him published for the first time. She also got an experimental and terribly unfortunate face life in the 1920s to "keep up" with Frere, just as Catherine does for Christopher.

I really enjoyed the book, I think because it appealed to my secret sentimental side but also discussed the idea of blindly accepting social standards as if they were God's will, and put in a good word about double standards in the context of "social norms."

Although the ending is tragic, and leaves the fate of its characters in an ambivalent state - definitely the last thing I wanted, actually, when I got into it and thought, "Oh, goody. A light and fluffy and fun romance." And then I read the forward to realize Elizabeth von Arnim was related to Katherine Mansfield.

All in all, an excellent read. My college professors would all pat me on the back for picking a real and literary novel over what I could have chosen (among them a murder mystery set in Vienna). And for reading the forward AND afterward. *Pats self on back.*

Friday, October 7, 2011

KUNSTHALLE: Le Surréalisme, c'est moi!

An exhibit at the Kunsthalle, and one I was very excited about seeing, Le Surréalisme, c'est moi! was, I'll be honest, a bit disappointing.

I would consider myself a true Salvador Dali fan. I have seen lots of exhibitions. I even have a finger puppet Dali:

Dali in front of the Trevi Fountain

So I was disappointed to see only a handful of Dali originals, with the rest of the exhibit a painful "contemporary artist do Dali." Yuck. This is a) false advertizing. I expected DALI! and b) not real art if you are just copy catting a great artist.

I did however receive a dual entrance ticket for my €10.50 to see "Das Kabinett des Jan Svankmajer" exhibit on the floor above. I was highly impressed. Svankmajer is a relatively well-known Czech animator and film director. He dabbles in other art forms, but his most famous pieces are short films. I remember seeing Dimensions of Dialogue at some point on TV - maybe the arts is a link to the first part on YouTube. I remember distinctly the different heads devouring each other, and thought it was weird when I was about 15. But now I find it strangely beautiful. I found the entire exhibit beautiful, in fact. Sometime a bit creepy, but always a true artistic vision.

Svankmajer's Encyclopedia sketches
Svankmajer has been touted as the Czech Tim Burton (though his work predates Burton's, so I would say he inspired Burton). As more or less a contemporary of Ingmar Bergman, I would also compare him to Bergman, in the sense that his films deal with social issues in a surreal or unexpected context. Although Bergman's work is more or less "normal" (set in a contemporary, real-life world) and live-action (no animation), I think they share a conceptual vision, in a way.

Svankmajer's work is dark - no doubt about that - imaginative, and very much influenced by the culture of central Europe. I've noticed in my time here (and in reading plenty of German texts in college) that there is a bit of an obsession with the Devil in German, Bohemian, and Alpine cultures - just look at the Brothers Grimm! Or Kafka, or E.T.A Hoffmann, or Heine. Or basically any German-language author for that matter. His Kafka-esque "The Flat," revamping of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," and his haunting critique of Communism, "The Garden."

So, although the Dali part was a bust, I think I've found a new favorite cineaste in Svankmajer.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Antiquariat oder Antiquitäten?

As is apparent to the average tourist to Vienna, dozens of antique stores, book shops, artist studios and other sorts of frivolous "specialty shops" lines the city's streets. Especially in my neighborhood, which is at the border of the 6th and 7th district, plenty of interesting-looking display windows beckon.

It seems to me that most of these places are hardly ever open, or open at the most inconvenient times for patrons (for example, from 10am to noon, three hour lunch break, and open again from 3 to 5 pm). This makes me wonder whether they ever do get customers, or sell anything. Perhaps these businesses are just fronts for nefarious activity (while I was at Lawrence, there was a dress shop that was never open - we suspected it to be a mob front) or perhaps a warehouse for some over the top collector.

In any case, some of the displays are quite bizarre. You can see for yourself here:

marzipan sunflowers

Lippizaner horse cake


a leather kangaroo

Not all of these are from antique shops. Some are chain stores, or high-end shops, like Swarovski and  the Gucci store on Kärntner Strasse.  But each is...well, unique! Take a look at what Vienna's shops have to offer: 

stuffed birds wearing Swarovski