~ver sacrum: the rite of (nearly!) spring~

March 22nd, 2008

How a lady feels after an uncharacteristic night of Blaufränkisch… The Medicean Venus, in her case of rosewood and 200 year old warbly Venetian glass, looks something like Snow White waiting for her transplant.

Saturday began at the Naschmarkt, a produce and specialty food market along the Wien river that has been around since the 16th century. There is also a flea marche which was so very crowded that I feared a repeat of stranger-kissing just by turning my head.

In the distant right corner is the top of the Secessionstil, a gilded sphere of laurel understandably referred to as the Golden Cabbage.

I parked Ali at the Café Drechsler–recently redesigned by Sir Terence Conran–and braved the crowds. I was rewarded with a few good vintage photos and potted herbs for our balcony (basil, mint, thyme), but alas no teapot. I will return to the daily market which has everything you could think of snarfing: tea, coffee, wine, cheese, olives, spices, and some produce I had never even seen before.


Next to the market is the Secessionstil built in 1897 to house the work of the artists—Gustav Klimt at the helm–who had resigned from the conservative Austrian artists group Künstlerhaus, to form Vereiningung Bildender Künstler Österreichs (aka Secession).

The voice of the Secession movement was a magazine called Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring).

A response to the historicist tendencies and general lack of innovation and freedom within the Kunstakademien, the Secession represented a desire to make art an integral part of everyday life. I heard that!
In 1903 Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann furthered this goal by opening the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops). The Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Applied Arts), has some lovely examples of Wiener Werkstätte glass, textiles, and furniture.

Klimt is seated in chair, Moser sits in front of him.

We also visited the Leopold on Museumsplatz, to take in their collection of that king of unveiled eroticism and angst–Klimt’s protégé and Mister Eros and Thanatos himself–Egon Schiele!


I love the energy of his work, but have always felt it is a fine line between Ego and Egon, ja? Important to remember his creative exploration lasted a mere ten years before he died of influenza in 1918 at the age of twenty-eight. One thing he said I rather like,
At present, I am mainly observing the physical motion of mountains, water, trees and flowers. One is everywhere reminded of similar movements in the human body, of similar impulses of joy and suffering in plants.


On the main drag of Mariahilfer Strasse, where long ago one could cheer (or throw eggs at) the emperor’s coach on its way from Schönbrunn Palace to the Imperial Palace, we found a shop that makes brushes from bone and procured a badger hair shaving brush and a lovely carved wooden soap holder for Ali’s upcoming birthday.

Ready for afternoon reparations, we headed to Cafe Sperl, which was too crowded, so then on to 1950’s Prückel Concert Café, a favorite of Alfonso.


By then I was really museumed out, but wanted to be sure to see the collection at the Medizinisch-chirurgische Josephs-Akademie aka Josephinum Medical Museum, so onward I went, this time solo, as Ali had really had enough. I was the only person wandering the rooms of life-sized wax models of flayed gentlemen.


These models were made under the supervision of the anatomist Paolo Mascagni in Florence between 1784 and 1788. Susini, a gifted modeler, created the wax figures by making plaster molds directly from the organs of cadavers (parts that could not be reproduced with molds were sculpted) in which a mixture of melted beeswax, animal fat, plant oil and dye was poured in successive layers. The arteries, veins and nerves were created with thread or wire dipped in wax. Many of the models can be completely taken apart.


I’ve been thinking quite a bit about mortality in my time here (Europe I mean), following 2007 (aka the Year of Death) and approaching my thirty-ninth, and more than the above, writing about a woman who is facing forty after her own Year of Death. (Can I pause to mention how grateful I am not to be trapped in a mental hospital in Burma working this stuff out?!)


The apartment so kindly lent to us by our hosts is on the top floor of a building and flooded with light. The bathroom—home of the most fabulous bathtub—simply bounces with sunrays in the morning and frankly (eye bags not withstanding), it was a shock to see—-SILVER HAIR on my head. Not a hair or two, which has long been in attendance, I mean a festival of it. Just add it to the ever-lengthening list of indignities and carry on. As the fabulous and well-spoken Hedy Lamarr said, I don’t fear death because I don’t fear anything I don’t understand. When I start to think about it, I order a massage and it goes away.


Did you know that this Viennese starlet–who started life as Hedwig Keisler–besides creating an international scandal by appearing in the first feature film nude scene (in the Czech film “Ecstasy”) also–when the allies were losing the war at sea–patented an invention designed to make a radio guided torpedo that was unjammable?

On the right is Lake Geneva, middle the hospice, and left is the view of the Alps.

I found these pictures at the flea marche. They are inscribed on the the back in lovely lady’s handwriting, and via a little sleuthing, I discovered they are from a 1955 trip that included L’Hospice du St. Bernard au Valais tucked in the Alps pass between Italy and Switzerland.

This hospice (at an altitude of 2469m) was founded in the XIth century to offer a refuge to travelers, who risked their lives to cross the Alps. The monks there surrounded themselves with big mountain dogs for guarding, rescue, and companionship. They saved many people from the so-called white death, and in 1800, when Bonaparte’s army passed through, stories spread the reputation of the Saint-Bernard dogs all over Europe. The legendary “Barry” so became the prototype of the rescue dog.

I think of this gal as a fellow ponderer, another fan of the moment in her plaid coat…


Our Chinese dinner included the festively appropriate “century egg,” a delicacy made by preserving duck or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for several months. It was variegated in shades of dark green and brown but not bad…

Easter Fire is another tradition–fires are lit in church on a Saturday night Easter Vigil–called by St. Augustine the “Mother of All Vigils”–that begins in darkness. We saw a woman carefully carrying a candle, presumably lit from such a fire and heading home.

Fun-lovin Pagans once built their fires on mountain tops and sang, danced, and leapt over the flames…victory of spring over winter! (or as it would have been stated in my junior high school yearbook, Spring Rocks, Rulz, and Kicks Ass!)

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