Saturday, October 15, 2005

Vienna: if it's Saturday, shouldn't I be at the market?

[After an early morning sweat trying to fix my camera I finally gave up and went in search of a replacement. I am now ecstatically in SLR land again. But if there is a learning curve to using new equipment, I'm not going to be sitting back and reading the literature. It's hit 'n miss time! I am, after all in Vienna. On a gorgeous hazy-sunny Fall day. Oh, is it gorgeous outdoors!]

Markets. They are such a draw for me! I always gripe that Madison's market is crowded with out-of-towners. Sorry, Vienna, I am the one blocking tight spaces now, with a camera instead of a shopping basket.

My first errand took me to the old town with the cobbled streets. I think the Viennese aren't cynical about their buggy rides. I think many of them do this for a fun recreational little jaunt.

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My morning coffee and croissant were postponed until after my errand. The first shots with the new camera were...of baked goods at a small, neighborhood coffeeshop.

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In the same neighborhood, I came across a small market where some pumpkin growers were teaching the Viennese how to carve pumpkins. Yeah, there is a learning curve, isn't there...

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this part was fun...

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the young skeptic: sure you know how to do this, mom?

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I'm thinking as well that the Viennese are better at carving this

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though there are plentyof ready made ones available for purchase

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while the band plays on

In the meantime, at the main Viennese outdoor market, I came across the crowds I am so familiar with on a late Saturday morning at the Madison market. Oh, there were other seasonal similarities. But here, in Vienna, the diversity of foods was striking. And for the first time, I found the influence of other cultures, other eating habits. Stalls of Turkish candies and dried fruits, numerous stands with stuffed olives -- things that spoke of migration from the south. My camera veered toward the regional foods though. Just a few examples:

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fresh fish and a determined little guy

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straight from the barrel

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I envy them their fresh mushrooms

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starchy lace and Muscat grapes

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every few stalls there are opportunities for a swig at the barrel;
no, I did not, so there.

Instead, I limited my purchases to this store, where I went in search of something for the little one who could not come to Vienna this time around. Of course, the sales clerk knew how to work her spells. Here, try this on, I'll take a photo, it's perfect for you.

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Fine, fine, I'll take both...

No, it's too beautiful outside. I can't take another minute for this post. Off I go, exploring.

Vienna: royal airs and modern foods

Why does Vienna sometimes elude me? Is it that its past imperial might was so far reaching, so enduring that, though beautiful to witness now, it is also, at some level—face it – terrifying? Is it that it, to me, it stands for establishment rather than rebellion (painting aside)? So that the young and old never seem quite comfortable with one other?

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Franz Joseph and maybe little Franz?

It is so astonishingly beautiful in the last rays of an October sun. The parks, the statues, the buildings, the open stands of sturm (young wine – really halfway between grape juice and wine) and sausages that capture crowds of those on their way home from work, the pastries, oh those damn fattening pastries – all this is magnificent.

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late afternoon street food: sturm, pretzels, sausage

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at the infamous Cafe Demel (looks a little like fried brains...)

And the food, updated to meet the new demands for fresh and honest, has pushed aside the reliable boiled beef with juniper berries and the breaded, fried (“to the color of a Stradivarius violin”) Weiner schnitzel. Witness: my more modern veal dish – with potato gnocchi and morels.

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And yet, even at the restaurant, I see the tension. Two tables of older couples – one of them American actually, but comfortable with the silence, the decorum. At another, a somewhat younger set, with mixed ethnicities, lots of laughter, spilling over friendliness. Then, at the side, my daughter and I (she has work in Vienna and I am tagging along), lost in our own conversation. We get frowns from the older sets – they clearly think we are too lively, too animated. Not fitting with established ways, even though the restaurant is anything but pretentious.

In the end the younger table wins. They hail us over as we get up to leave. Now our conversation spills and floods the entire premises. The staid are swept to insignificance even as they refuse to acknowledge the sudden shift that has just occurred. Sure, we emerge triumphant. But the tension was there. Palpable.

At the door, we chat with the proprietor about this bullying presence of those who want so much to keep boundaries and hierarchies firmly in place. He shrugs his shoulders – an older man, trying to please both, favoring the young the animated, the joyous, but understanding that the other, the older have a firm clasp on Vienna’s soul. And pocketbook.

Brisk walking on cobble stones creates a loud echo at night. But the streets aren’t entirely empty and there is no misty rain. The moon is bright, the city looks beautiful even in the darker shadows. We close with more cakes, hot chocolate, and for me a delicious coffee enhanced with orange liquor (yes, and whipped cream) at the CafĂ© Central. It is said that Leon Trotsky planned the Russian Revolution from here. That’s so like Vienna – to speak proudly now of revolutions – that took place …elsewhere.