Vienna and Krakow, Part 8.

April 15th, 2018

Hey everyone! I apologize, I was doing great there and then I got caught in a vortex of work where I had to, and I am not kidding about this, learn a massive amount of the animation program After Effects in a week. Yeah. That happened. I mean, it’s still happening but if I have to look at another keyframe tonight I will punch an innocent so I’m going to talk about Krakow. Krakow! Home of depressing Jewish history! Let’s get into it. Oskar Schindler from the movie Schindler’s List, remember how he was a good guy? Spielberg lied to us. Here’s the truth: Oskar Schindler was a Nazi which we knew. BUT his factory was a German camp. The workers did 12 hour shifts every day, 7 days a week. In the morning they were given black coffee and a piece of bread, lunch was soup with sausage and dinner was black coffee and with a piece of bread. They lived in barracks behind the factory so Schindler wouldn’t have them getting sick or wasting time walking from a nearby camp every day. It was like this for YEARS. And after the war Oskar fled to Argentina with all the other Nazis. He never did the famous scene where if he sold his watch he could save one more or any of that. He wasn’t a hero, he was just pragmatic. Sick or dead workers can’t work. You may address me as Jessica The Truth-Spewer And Dream-Killer if you’d like from this point on. I’ll understand.

The Schindler factory has been turned into a museum and the major exhibit, which is a collection of the buildup to the war and then the occupation in Poland, is creepily excellent. The reason I say “creepily” is because you walk through it and sound in piped to set the scene which makes it very personal. The Moomins and I felt much more of an impact when we were there than when we were at Auschwitz where everything was scrubbed down and sanitized. I was quite a bit shook up but I took some pictures when I remembered to use my camera.

Oddly worded sign in the entrance of the museum.

I looked up what “cold steel” is and it is, in the Wiki’s words, “an American manufacturer and seller of knives, swords and other edged weapons and tools based in Ventura, California. Special Projects is a division of Cold Steel Inc. that produces a line of tools and weapons such as Spetsnaz-type shovels, sjamboks, and spears. Additionally a line of tomahawks, axes, and hammers is marketed under the name of The American Tomahawk Company.” So I’m guessing they’re saying no weapons of any kind.

The Germans required detailed reports on how everyone was doing in the ghettos so someone made this handy-dandy chart of how many of each age group of people. Aside from the grim subject material, I very much liked the design style.

Ugh, this tiled floor. Tough to walk on. I felt like it was leeching bad vibes into the soles of my feet. It didn’t help this music was playing simultaneously. The whole mood was ominous to the nth degree.

Other elements from the exhibit.

This one made me grin. There’s a British comedy skit referencing this particular uniform that I immediately thought of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU

That’s enough staring into the horror of mankind for today. Since the Schindler factory was in the industrial part of town the factory across the street had been turned into a glass-blowing and ceramic space. Please note that the logo was a dragon blowing glass. Never forget the dragon is real! NEVER FORGET.

And because the industrial part of town has many artist’s studios it was not surprising to see the knitted trees.

Aside from the major cathedral in Wawel Castle there are approximately eight thousand other churches in Krakow. I only visited a handful but they were pretty great. My favorite was St. Mary’s Church in the Old Square.

Here’s some knowledge on it:

Built in the 14th century, its foundations date back to the early 13th century and serve as one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture. Standing 80 m (262 ft) tall, it is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz).

On every hour, a trumpet signal—called the Hejna? mariacki—is played from the top of the taller of Saint Mary’s two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. The noon-time hejna? is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station.

I heard and saw the trumpeter when I was there. He was perched near a window in one of towers and when he finished he waved his very shiny trumpet out the window and we all waved back and cheered. It was a very jocular medieval moment. You’ll also note the two towers don’t match. Why? I’ve decided it’s because under no circumstances should there be any symmetry in any Polish architecture ever. Please refer to the Wawel Cathedral for additional proof.

The exterior is lovely, but the inside was redone in the 1800s and completely polychromed and it is IMPRESSIVE. My breath was tooken away.

The only painted portion that bothered me was at the base of the curved arches when they turned into the pillars. That red part looked unfinished and a bit sloppy, like they could have done more with that. I normally wouldn’t be bothered by that but it really stood against all the excellent and detailed artwork all over the everything else.

A cool bit I noticed in several Polish churches was putting an arch at the of… the aspe? The front where the priest conducts services from. I forgot what it’s called. That place. Anyway, before that tube starts they put an arch or a bar with the crucifix on it as like a kind of gate. It’s notable to me because it’s unusual, I don’t see it in other countries’ architectures. I thought is was an interesting touch. It’s like it’s saying, “This church may be dedicated to this saint or that saint, but Jesus comes first. Don’t forget.” Here it is in St. Mary’s Church.

And here it is in another church.

Moomins got very excited about a set of extremely large medieval doors and insisted on me taking a picture of her with them. So please enjoy this photo of The Moomins with a set of extremely large medieval doors.

And I was slightly less excited but still somewhat excited about this icon because it’s the first time I’ve seen an icon done in what I consider the Russian style, with the metal plate over the body. It reminded me how close I was to where my ancestors are from (Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine). It’s the closest I’ve ever been.

Coming in the next entry: I’m undecided. Should I cover Auschwitz and get it over with like pulling off a bandaid or should I show some of the nicer things and then finish up on that awful note? I guess we’ll find out.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 7.

April 3rd, 2018

You ready for more Krakow? Cuz you’re about to get it.

Krakow is located in a really interesting place. It was once a saltwater sea there. That’s why there’s a huge salt mine nearby, it’s the dried remains of the sea. In addition there were people there 120,000 years ago, and rhinos, and mammoths. We’ll get to that in a minute. Here’s an Wikipedia article on Stone Age Poland:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone-Age_Poland

Back to architecture in Krakow: in the center of the Old Square is the Cloth Hall which was a massive market for centuries. Now the stalls are filled with vendors selling crafts and tourist items and the second floor is a museum of paintings.

 

There are seals and crests painted all over the walls for different areas of Poland. This one was my favorite: a sword with two fish gritting their teeth.

Education for everybody is a relatively new development in Western history so I imagine the reason there are sculptures over the doors of some of the older houses was a sign of who lived there to the illiterate. I saw a ton of them. I got pictures of a rhino and a lobster.

An aspect I adore in the architecture I saw was how when chunks of major buildings needed repair or burnt down no one made any attempt to match the style of the original, they used whatever style was popular that day. That’s how you end up with facilities that l0ok like they were hot-glued together from other mismatched bits. Let’s look at Wawel Castle. It’s kind of noticeable from the outside but wait, it is all made clear when we approach the Cathedral inside.

Just so you know, this is where the dragon lives. And in case you forget, you are reminded everywhere you go within the castle walls. Here’s the 100% true story of the not-made-up Wawel dragon (name: Smok Wawelski).

The Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes, and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. The cobbler’s apprentice (named Skuba) accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and became so thirsty, it turned to the Vistula River and drank until it burst. The cobbler married the King’s daughter as promised, and founded the city of Kraków.

So dragon drank river and exploded. Fast forward to when they’re digging up the ground to make the castle and the diggers find a bunch of bones. They didn’t research what they are because OF COURSE they’re the dragon bones, right? I mean, duh. Turns out one is a mammoth bone, one is a blue whale rib (remember, there was a saltwater sea there millions of years ago) and one was a rhino skull. The bones are now hanging outside the church’s front door.

Here’s a map of the castle within the walls. Note the icon in the upper right corner. We’ll get back to that.

Like most castles within walls, it’s like a small city in there. There’s residences for the important people and the cathedral and the parliament maybe and I imagine the equivalent of a 7-11, all manner of buildings.

But the best part is the cathedral. I don’t know if you’re ready for the hodge-podge of periods. I certainly wasn’t.

ALL THE STYLES. ALL OF THEM. I loved it. I totally get if other people are bothered by it, but not me. I am firmly on Team Random Edifice. And I especially appreciated all the dragon elements that are incorporated into the structure itself. Like the gutters.

Bonus: The ones in the middle looked like skeksis (skeksii? skeksesses?).

There’s this carving near the door of a dragon.

Now, do you remember my sexy dead guys from Vienna? The skeletons propped up on their side? I saw that carved into the crypts in this church. I guess that’s an acceptable dead person pose in Eastern Europe. *The More You Know* ====?

And unsurprisingly I was delighted by the art nouveau gates outside the church with the chestnut motif. Big fan.

So, the actual dragon. Now, we all know he’s dead because he exploded but his cavern is still there and you can walk through it. At the end is a sculptural representation of Smok that supposedly shoots fire. I say supposedly because it was closed until spring. I couldn’t walk through the cavern and I only saw the sculpture from the top of the hill.

But I got to see a great view of the river and all the duckies and swannies swimming in the non-frozen part.

Unrelated to anything else: The ladies’ bathroom had a sign for breastfeeding but to me it looked like Dracula swishing his cape over his shoulder.

Here, I photoshopped it to make it clearer what I’m seeing.

Next entry: Schindler Factory.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 6.

April 2nd, 2018

Hey hey! Did everyone have a nice Judeo-Christian-Spring-awakening holiday weekend? I hosted Passover in my home for fourteen people so that was a thing I pulled off by the skin on my teeth.

So Krakow! A very very old city in Poland! But first, let’s look at some random stuff that does not neatly fit anywhere else.

Graffiti from both Vienna and Krakow that I liked.

A piece of ancient oldness chillin’ in the Vienna train station because they have so much art they can just put that stuff any old place:

The Rathaus in Vienna at night. The Rathaus (pronounced how you would think, Rat House) is the main government building of the town, where you would go to get a permit or pay your taxes, that kind of thing. It is from the late 1800s but it is faithfully designed in Gothic style. The Viennese Rathaus has a giant public park in front of it and during the Frozen Months it is a ice skating rink with colored lights in the trees and pop music. It was so lovely that The Moomins and I stood there in the epically cold weather and simply enjoyed the people skating to Katy Perry.

Now on to Krakow. Krakow is going to be a bit darker than Vienna because instead of museums The Moomins and I went to several places of Jewish interest and that means Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, etc. Therefore, less upbeat. You have been warned.

Krakow is OLD. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Kraków, also Cracow or Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading center of Slavonic Europe in 965. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs. It was the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1596, the Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Cracow from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1998. It has been the capital of Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999.

A Voivodeship is like a state with a Governor called a Voivode. They only exist in Central and Eastern Europe. My point is Krakow is super-old. When we arrived early in the morning we went to our hotel. While we were waiting for our room the front desk asked us if we wanted to have breakfast in their medieval wine cellar and we were like, “Hell yes, I want to eat eggs and toast in a medieval wine cellar, thank you.” I spoke to the front desk afterwards and they said don’t get too excited, every building in the city center has a vintage basement. There’s a whole city under the city, they ain’t special. Lotta old all over.

Another thing I learned from the front desk staff is that they don’t have myths and legends, they have truths and realities. I’ll explain. As we were checking in, the front desk girl pulled out the map of the city and started circling things. “Here is where the hotel is, and here is the city center, and over here is Wawel Castle, and if you’d like to meet our dragon he lives here, and here is…”

Notice she didn’t say, “If you’ve heard our story about the dragon, blah blah blah.” No. The dragon is real, he lives here and you can visit him. They also strongly believe in gnomes who we will meet when we go to the salt mines. My favorite conversation of this style is when we took a walking tour of Kazimierz. Our guide named Jack said, “Have you met our dragon?” and I said I had not yet but was planning to. Jack said matter-of-factly, “You should come back on the first of June. Our dragon sends out invitations to all the rest of the world’s dragons and they come here and there’s a parade of dragons.” I don’t know about you but you bet your sweet butt I’m going to the dragon parade at some point, are you kidding me? That sounds amazing.

Due to being around for millennia, Krakow has awesome architecture.

I took way too many pictures of that church at the end. I loved the step style that is reminiscent of Dutch step buildings, but it doesn’t only go across and down, it dips back down before it goes up which makes it spikier. I attached a picture of a Dutch-style building in New York so you can understand what I’m saying.

The city, even though it is ancient, is very much alive and adapting. I took this photo to show Krakow keeping it modern. The building to the right was torn down, and the wurst over the door on the right has been removed and now it’s a ramen place. In the place of the torn down building is a tex-mex food truck. Very current with the times.

Next entry: more Krakow including its ancient fossils.

Addendum: Look at these pictures of the Dragon Parade! That looks super-fun. I am on board with that.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 5.

March 25th, 2018

Okay, last entry on Vienna. Get ready for some art.

First, more food. This is apple strudel. Sitting in a warm bath of vanilla sauce. With swirls of whipped cream on either end. *sniff* I miss this so much.

The Moomins and I walked past a print shop where we saw real rebellious students working on real rebellious posters and banners. Hand-painting them! I was so impressed.

Some Renaissance smooshed into the Baroque. This is called the Schweizertor (“Swiss door”) and it’s on one of the many MANY buildings in Vienna that belonged to the monarchy.

And off to the right is a panel from the same period with some mighty fine gryphons. A+ on those gryphons.

The rest of the building has your standard Baroque extra drama with a side of expressive. I especially likes this guy wrestling what I assume is the Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, but they look like weird tigers.

Speaking of the monarchy, the primary reigning family of Austria was the Habsburgs and as with most royal families there was cousins marrying and all that. I could not stop thinking about Paul Reubens on 30Rock when he played His Royal Highness the Duke of Terechia, the Earl of the Duchy of Westphalia, Prince Gerhardt Messaschmidt Rammstein van Hoppe.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XkzeDecjkg

Great character. SOOOOPER inbred.

I wanted to go to the Museum of Applied Arts because that’s the area I’m most interested in. I like the useful arts best. The coolest exhibit they have was the first built-in kitchen. Before this concept you bought a stove and a cabinet for dishes and none of that was provided in the home already. I guess it never occurred to me that there someone had to think of it. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

The Frankfurt kitchen was a milestone in domestic architecture, considered the forerunner of modern fitted kitchens, for it realized for the first time a kitchen built after a unified concept, designed to enable efficient work and to be built at low cost. It was designed in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for architect Ernst May’s social housing project New Frankfurt in Frankfurt, Germany. Some 10,000 units were built in the late 1920s in Frankfurt.

And here are some chairs displayed in one of the hallways. No relation to anything. Just liked them. Who doesn’t like wood carving and little antlers?

The last museum I went to was the Albertina. It was a residence for one of the members of the royal family, a Duke or an Earl, there were so many, it’s hard to keep track.

They have state rooms on display and they were those rooms you always see in movies where you go through door after door after door and they’re all in rows, around the same size with no furniture. People would ship their bureaus and armoires of clothes so there were no closets. And clearly they used chamber pots so there were no bathrooms. Just salon after salon. By the way, that’s why it often sucks to live in a pre-war apartment in New York City – no closets. Closets are a recently new invention.

The only stationary piece of furniture were mammoth ceramic heating units in the center of the room. The cold there is real, people.

I thought the chandeliers were pretty great. They were not just slapped together like crappy hotel ballroom ones, they were clearly crafted with love and care. It makes a difference and I appreciated it.

So as I pottered from room to room looking at the art on the walls and the rooms themselves I got another artistic surprise. In one of the room was… Albrecht Dürer’s Grouchy Bunny! I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in! Hi Lil Bun-Buns! You look so mad and I love you!

Mr. Grumples was behind glass (hence the reflections you see there) so I could get right up to him, like inches from him. That rabbit is fantastic. He looks like he was painted yesterday. Now, the reason I said I didn’t know this was the museum he lived in is because there are representations of The Hare all over the city, so I knew he was SOMEWHERE in Vienna. There’s a great pink version outside the Opera House.

And a green version on top of a snack stand:

So I knew this was The Hare’s city but there’s like 200 museums so whatever. The great thing was next to The Hare was two other small paintings by Dürer and one was a wing. Guys, this wing was amazing. Every tuft on the feathers, every color shift, everything was rendered perfectly. I did my best to take photos of it but keep in mind this painting is quite small so the detail is pretty flawless. As Kendrick Lamar says, “Sit down. Be humble.” I did. I was.

The gift shop had mini versions of The Hare for sale but they were pricey so I took a pass. I would have wanted to get them in every color plus silver plus gold anyway and it would have drifted into $1,000 at that point so I opted for none.

I’d like you to know that in looking for additional information on The Hare I found this nightmare fuel in Nuremburg. What the fresh hell is this? Ugh.

I think that’s everything on my five days in Vienna. If it appears that I only looked at churches and museums and ate cake and drank hot beverages, then I have portrayed my experience correctly. Much to my chagrin I didn’t get a chance to see my girl the Venus of Willendorf. I studied her for art school and I’ve always wanted to see her. Maybe next time.

Next entry: Krakow.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 4.

March 22nd, 2018

Before we get into The Museums of Vienna IV: Holy Crap That’s A Lot Of Art, there’s some unrelated elements we should cover.

When The Moomins and I waited for our daily tram to town (they still have trams in Vienna!) our stop was in front of a rather plain building with one architectural detail: A weird-looking lioness under the lower-right-hand window. The Moomins and I decided that we would rent that apartment for the sole reason of dressing up the lion for major holidays. Easter? Lion gets a basket of colorful eggs and bunny ears. Christmas? Ugly sweater and blinky lights. Halloween? Ghost costume with cut-out eyes and bag full of candy, and so on and so forth.

I went to an international market and saw a fruit that looked a bunch like the dragon eggs from Game of Thrones so I bought one and ate it. It’s called a snakefruit and inside it looks like if a clump of lychees were mashed into the shape of a head of garlic and it tasted like an apple. Definitely one of the more odd fruits I’ve tried. Big identity issues.

Did you know they used the guillotine a lot more recently than you would think? I attributed it to the French Revolution and then I thought it fell out of favor for, like, a firing squad. I was incorrect.

Vienna is known as the city of Mozart. He was a big damn deal there and there are references to him everywhere. In front of one tiny theater there is a sculpture of Papagano, the bird guy in The Magic Flute.

And in one of the many churches in Vienna one of them had a memorial on the wall that Moomins translated. Mozart wrote a requiem which he never heard played because he died. The plaque on the wall said this was the church Mozart’s requiem was played immediately after his untimely demise.

If you haven’t heard Lacrimosa from the Requiem recently you should because it is so beautifully depressing. “Exquisite gloominess” is a good description. It’s been used in a ton of movies / TV shows / dog food commercials / etc.

Fun bonus: the same church had some leftover Middle Ages art on the wall that they thoughtfully preserved.

So on to the museum du jour, the Kunsthistorisches (“Museum of Fine Arts”). It has a really good collection of Bruegels including “The Tower of Babel” as well as a megaton of other awesome art. Interestingly enough, my favorite part was the building itself. So many grotesques on the ceiling! I’m surprised I didn’t walk into a column I was staring up so much.

People were taking wedding photos in there because of The Photogenic.

The coolest thing was related to a massive wall of scaffolding. Gustav Klimt, before he was the painter we know and love with the gold and the textures, did your standard normal-type portraiture and he was damn good at it. Like, astonishingly good. I saw this charcoal drawing and was blown away. Klimt’s choices of how much to include and leave out gives it a misty tone but nothing is missing. In person it is so evocative.

So there was this scaffolding:

Because when Klimt was still working for The Man instead of doing his own thing he painted these awesome oil paintings in the corners of the walls where no one can appreciate them. And they are so great. They represent the collection of art you can see in the museum and his photorealism is impeccable.

Because it’s dark up there and I was balancing on one foot to try and photo these it’s tough to see how good they are but I’ll attempt to describe. For example, in the picture below I couldn’t tell if the ceramic flowers behind the guy’s head were painted or real ceramics and I was less than six feet from it. I had to bob my head back and forth like an owl to see if they were 3D.

The Egyptian tableau, you felt like you could reach out and touch it.

There was a bust crammed in a corner that Klimt painted. I could have sworn it was real. I’m telling you, my jaw was on the floor. The man had SKILLZZZ.

A little more about the cafe culture. After lovin’ on the art The Moomins and I headed off to the nicest coffee house we attended during our visit, Cafe Central. There are several high-end coffee houses in Vienna but this is the only one we went to. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The café was opened in 1876, and in the late 19th century it became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. Key regulars included: Peter Altenberg, Theodor Herzl, Alfred Adler, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Adolf Loos, Leo Perutz, Alfred Polgar, Adolf Hitler, and Leon Trotsky. In January 1913 alone, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, and Trotsky (the latter two being regulars) were patrons of the establishment.

Hitler AND Trotsky were regulars? Fancy!

Moomins and I decided to make a day of it and I ordered a salad. What arrived was not what I expected. It was a small plate with some delicate lettuce and a bit of tomato on top and under that the dish was separated into four sections: pickled cucumbers, pickled potatoes, pickled carrots and something else I forgot (that was pickled). It was absolutely delicious but salad is different there. Just a heads up on that.

Moomins got the daily special which was chicken with mushrooms and peppers served with semolina dumplings. If anyone knows the recipe for Viennese semolina dumplings please send it to me today. No, get in a time machine and send it to me yesterday. It was so scrumptious and when I go on the web to look for the recipe I get some crappy soupy matzah ball type thing. Unacceptable.

For dessert we got the small sampler of pastries and a pear and poppy seed crumble. The sampler was a good choice because we got a wee taste of several different flavors like lemon curd and hazelnut.

And I learned an important life lesson: I do not like poppy seeds. I’m fine with them sprinkled on a bagel but when they’re wet and slathered en masse on a baked good they taste like the smell of shower mold. Not a fan. Moomins got to eat 90% of this.

Next entry: The end of the Art of Vienna and on to the Art of Krakow.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 3.

March 21st, 2018

The Moomins and I are expert travelers. Without making an effort we managed to see seven museums in five days. If we had tried and pulled ourselves out of bed before 10:00am we probably could have done far more but seven isn’t too shabby. One of those museums was The Belvedere. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of it:

The Belvedere is a historic building complex in Vienna, Austria, consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque park landscape in the third district of the city, on the south-eastern edge of its centre. It houses the Belvedere museum. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.

It’s a beautiful building and I’m sure the gardens are great in the summer, but I went there during Frozen Mud Season so yeah, gardens not so great. Here are my pics of the exterior.

I love how the sphinx has dirty boobies because people keep rubbing them. Never change, everybody.

Here’s a picture through a rainy window of the gardens and the city in the distance.

On the front lawn was a fun piece of modern art. It’s one of the best-named pieces I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Fat House” and it’s… a fat house. The only name more descriptive would be “Morbidly Obese Cottage.”

The inside of the Belvedere had lovely gallery spaces that were very very Baroque.

The only time I got miffed was when they put perfectly good paintings of guinea fowl a million miles above the doorway, as shown by this picture here. I can’t see the guinea fowl, guys! Provide a ladder please and thank you!

We went in the main entry hall and immediately noticed the pervasive scent of church incense. The Moomins and I were confused because there’s no church in there. We decided to start with the Medieval Art Wing and headed to that area and the smell got stronger. When we opened the door to the wing The Moomins and I were greeted by a sight we were wholly unprepared for.

Get ready.

In the entry hall to the Medieval exhibit, with no explanation whatsoever, was an oversized white sculpture of a woman on all fours using a broken shard of mirror to tweeze her mustache while wisps of church incense puffed out of her butthole.

I was mentally not equipped to research the reasoning for this at the time but I just went to the Belvedere website and this is what I found:

Larger than life, she kneels on a tabletop with her blouse pushed up. The only sign of her divinity is the frankincense emanating from an opening in her body. Unfazed by the viewer’s gaze, in an all too human manner she plucks a hair from her chin. The intimate nature of this representation is in diametrical opposition to typical depictions of Olympian gods. This is Hera by Ines Doujak.

I do not understand why this is a thing that is. Later on I was climbing the giant staircase and at the top I saw what I assumed were giant ceramic jars decorated with snakes. Nope! Those are supposed to be intestines. It was at this point I turned to Moomins and said, “I’m concerned about the curators of this museum. I think they’re trying to tell us something. Like their mom didn’t hug them enough, maybe. Or their pet was hit by a car and that is their primary childhood memory. There’s definitely some weird trauma they’re working through.”

There wasn’t only disturbing confusing modern art. There was also old art which can be disturbing and confusing in their own way, but it’s different. For example, one of the elements I love about paintings from around 1300 is the exquisite way fabric is rendered and how everything else looks terrible. I appreciate that they didn’t know how to do perspective so that looks janky as heck:

And the horses look like they’re on drugs and are vaguely humanoid:

And these farm animals appear to be plotting to kill that old man doing a poor job of hiding his Fifth Element head:

I fixed it to accurately portray what I think I’m seeing.

This was surprising. It’s a plague-ridden time, you would think there would be skulls all over for reference and the artists would be able to paint them accurately. You would be wrong.

There were a ton of other pieces of art from all different periods. The Belvedere is most famous for having “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt but it’s not that amazing in person. I would recommend you go to the Neue Gallerie in New York City. That museum has “Woman in Gold” which I think is a far superior Klimt. I was very psyched to enter a room and bump into one of the paintings I studied in school, “Napoleon Lookin’ Hella Patriotic On A Horse” by Jacques-Louis David.

My favorite painting was a thoroughly non-famous one I just happened across. It’s an exceptionally well-rendered painting of four vultures. I really wanted to shove it under my shirt and take it home but it’s a large painting and I most likely would go to prison so my desires went unquenched.

And, of course, we had coffee and cake in their cafe. And it was magnificent.

Next entry: What else? More museums.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 2.

March 20th, 2018

Continuing with Vienna: I let The Moomins book our hotel. I have one rule about hotels, and that is I don’t want to share a bathroom. If I need to pee I’m not waiting. Private bathroom is a must. The Moomins took that and got us a room. Not a hotel room. A room. It was a good room, but we had to climb a flight of stairs and there was no breakfast or bellhops or free shampoo or ice machine. But it was also forty-five Euros a night and well-located so I think for the amount of time we were in Vienna (five days) that is perfectly fine. While our room had the depressing ambiance of a place two spies would meet to have their illicit and doomed love affair during the Cold War, it was toasty and comfy, the shower worked, there was a towel-warmer that did a stellar job of drying our freshly-washed socks, I would recommend it. Hotel Arpi. Check it out.

Before we get into one of my favorite moments of the trip, let’s look at some random bits that fit neatly into no category. I saw this eatery from the second level of a double-decker tourist bus.

Okay. If you’re going to have the majority of your signage in English I am going to assume all of your signage is in English. Therefore, if you write “abnormal gut” in the upper corner, I’m not going to think, “Oh, that means ‘abnormally good’ in German.” I’m going to think it has something to do with your food giving people IBS which is not a great selling point. A helpful hint from Auntie Jessica Who Works In Advertising.

And look at the level of concern about allergies on this menu. I saw this a few times and I was really impressed.

The reason I know so much about menus is because Vienna is a cafe culture and every single day The Moomins and I would stop in to a cafe and get tea or coffee and cake. There is no flavored coffee, but there is a myriad of ways for it to be served, and a big ingredient is whipped cream. It’s always served with a small glass of water as well. And sometimes a tiny cookie. They’re a classy bunch, the Viennese.

On to the focus. There is an enormous important church in the middle of town called Stephansdom and if you go to Vienna you are required to visit it. Here is Wikipedia’s description:

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP. The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral, seen today in the Stephansplatz, was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multicolored tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

It is extremely beautiful and the roof is pretty great.

Here’s a picture someone else took of the other side. More fancy tile work on the roof.

The inside is your standard major European cathedral filled with a hodge-podge of relics and art which is fine. Gorgeous, lofty, almost no original windows due to bombs dropping (boooooo). Here’s a video to give you a sense. However, around the corner maybe a block away was another church, Peterskirche, and that’s the one I want to discuss. It’s easily recognizable because of its large green dome.

The interior is a big round room and it’s the picture I used for the “stay tuned” post earlier.

 

I went there for a concert the second night I was there and I sat up in front on the left. For over an hour I sat up in front on the left. The significance of that will become more important later. I enjoyed the concert quite a bit (chamber music with Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms) but I kept getting distracted by the massive gold statue in front of me. I couldn’t take any pictures because it was dark but I found a photo online that gives you an idea. The sculpture in front of me glinting in the light was a representation of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Son and Holy Ghost were fine but the Father, aside from having the Illuminati Triangle Halo which takes some getting used to, was holding a wand that looked EXACTLY like the Elder Wand from Harry Potter.

I mean, REALLY.

So that was amusing to me. The next day we found ourselves outside the church and we went in to see what it looked like in daylight. There was a service going on so I did my best to be respectful and quiet. That wasn’t a problem until I wandered up to near where I was sitting to try to take a photo of the wand. I noticed off to my side there was a big altar with someone’s painting on top and beneath that was… a skeleton dressed in full regalia covered in silver and glass jewels and doing what I can only describe as a sexy come-hither pose. “Hey ladies. There’s room in this ossuary for two.” *pat, pat, pat*

Oh. My God. I was sitting next to a jaunty skeleton for an hour and I didn’t know it??? It helps to know that there is a book on this, I book I own and covet and I had no expectations of seeing the Teutonic saints so happening upon one filled me with unbridled delight. Here’s the problem: services were going on and The Moomins is kind of deaf so I had no way to convey my joy. Bonus was the other guy on the other side in the same position but mirrored. Two! Two festive dead guys!

Next entry: More art and I think the Viennese museum curators need a hug.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 1.

March 18th, 2018

You know what’s the best idea ever? Going to Eastern Europe in February. That was a testament to my smartitude, I’ll tell you what. Normally it’s not a huge deal but this year, whoooo. As I mentioned briefly before there was some atrocious mega-freeze that floated on over from Siberia (an area noted for its excellent production of cold) and it made being a tourist very difficult. I was convinced my nose was going to turn black and fall off like that guy from Mount Everest. Seriously, airports were closed all over and it didn’t stop Europe from functioning but it sure slowed it down.

But The Moomins and I persevered. We did so much and I saw so many art chums in museums. I don’t know if I’m alone in this but I studied art history in high school and college and when I encounter a painting or sculpture I’m familiar with I like to greet it like an old friend. “Hey, a Rembrandt self portrait! Hi Rembrandt Self Portrait! How’s it going for you, haven’t seen you in a while. Looking good, looking good. Love your lights and shadows, keep it up.” It is important to realize I say all these words out loud and that is why I think I’ve never been mugged. I make any would-be muggers floating around the museum uncomfortable. More on the art I shmoozed with later. First, we look at architecture.

If you visit Vienna it is entirely possible to to not go into any museum and still see some great art and desifn. The architecture in Vienna is a big reason many people travel there. It certainly was a major motivation for me. That and Viennese cake. About 50 / 50 between the architecture and the cake.

 

Because like most European cities there has been war and war and a massive fire and then some more war, most of the architecture is relatively new. Even though Vienna was founded in approximately 500 AD by some Romans there is none of that to be found. It’s almost all Baroque architecture dating from between 1600 – 1750 AD. Occasionally some Gothic will pop out (1100 – 1500 AD) and if you’re really lucky, some Medieval might make an appearance but get ready for Baroque. Which is unfortunate for me because I do not adore Baroque. It’s fine, but it’s definitely not my favorite art style. It can be… much. I’ve made my feelings clear about Baroque in this previous entry.

For example, Baroque loves clouds and angels. The problem with clouds is that they are great in paintings but when you try to make them out of stone they can look like plastic bags of liposuctioned human fat stapled to a pole. I am speaking specifically of this. First one is my picture but it sucks so I found a better one.

See what I mean? Lumpy. Overly ornate and lumpy. You need to be careful with Baroque. It can be absolutely beautiful but it can also veer into Jabba the Hut territory if you’re not careful. However, betwixt the Baroque is my favorite art movement, Secession. Secession is a sub-section of Art Nouveau and when it’s done right it is so beautifully balanced. The most famous of those buildings is the bluntly named Secession Building which looks like this:

I was so excited to see this building. I love it. I used elements of it in my college classes, like the three owls on the side:

But I didn’t take those pictures. Would you like to know why I didn’t take those pictures? Because the Secession Building is COMPLETELY COVERED IN SCAFFOLDING ARE YOU KIDDING ME. I understand that it needs renovations but whyyyyyyy? In between the scaffolding you could see the sassy lizards that guard the door.

And you could appreciate the enormous mosaic planters outside the front door.

Aaaaaand that’s about it for the outside. Inside is a profoundly interesting painting done by Gustav Klimt called The Beethoven Frieze and it is magnificently weird and I can’t get enough of it.

It goes all around the top of the room but the most important part (in my opinion) is the giant dead-eyed gorilla (?) surrounded by women of all shapes and sizes and also Death (?). I love it.

I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t want to know what’s happening. I don’t want my initial reaction of confused glee to be tampered with by actual information on the meaning. No one tell me.

In the next entry: probably more architecture. Definitely more art.

I’m mad at the entire state of Oregon.

March 13th, 2018

Just saw the new commercial for Oregon Travel. What the hell, Oregon? You forget I exist over here? You’re gonna make a commercial with giant rabbits covered with tulips and caterpillars on bicycles in the style of one of my favorite films Spirited Away and you’re not gonna call me? We have beef now, Oregon. We fightin’.

Movies with ladies in them (but that does not make them feminist).

March 12th, 2018

While I am editing my numerous trip photos let’s talk about some movies I have seen recently, one movie in particular.  First of all, I finally saw the Oscar-nominated films Get Out and Call Me By Your Name, both of which were engrossing and I would recommend that you see them. No news there, everyone and their cat has been talking about how good those films are. Those are not the ones we’re going to discuss. No, my friend S. and I went to go see a double-feature at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of a series called “Witches, Sluts and Feminists.” Mainly movies with female leads where the females do not follow the assigned tropes of lady-dom. I heartily disagree with the curator’s definition of what a feminist movie is (more on that later) but the films definitely featured some XX chromosomes, that is true.

The first film was The Lure and it was… fine. I guess. It could have been great, it had the potential for greatness, but it was not. It’s a Polish drama / horror (but not really) film taking place in the 1980s where two mermaids come out of a lake and become songstresses in a nighclub and one falls in love with a human but the other one wants to eat him. See? There’s tension, there’s a plot in there somewhere… but it just isn’t anything. I felt nothing for any of the characters. The musical numbers need a thorough going-over by Lin-Manuel Miranda STAT because they were rough. The practical effects were lovely and the actors did their best but no. Just no.  Here’s the American poster and the original Polish poster. Do not be fooled by the dope graphic design. It’s a no from me, dawg.

The film that I want to delve into, the reason I went to the theater in the first place, is Belladonna of Sadness. Okay. Steel yourself. I knew nothing about this film until I read this description on the Alamo site (I highlighted the important bits in case you just want to skim):

One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese animation, never before officially released in the U.S., Belladonna of Sadness is a mad, swirling, psychedelic light-show of medieval tarot-card imagery with horned demons, haunted forests and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, equal parts J.R.R. Tolkien and gorgeous, explicit Gustav Klimt-influenced eroticism. The last film in the adult-themed Animerama trilogy produced by the godfather of Japanese anime & manga, Osamu Tezuka and directed by his long time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (“Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”), Belladonna unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman, Jeanne is violently raped by the local lord on her wedding night. To take revenge, she makes a pact with the Devil himself who appears as an erotic sprite and transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire.

Extremely transgressive and not for the easily offended, Belladonna is fueled by a mindblowing Japanese psych rock soundtrack by noted avant-garde jazz composer Masahiko Satoh. The film has been newly restored by Cinelicious Pics using the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements – and including over 8 minutes of surreal and explicit footage cut from the negative. On par with Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards as an LSD-stoked 1970s head trip, Belladonna marks a major rediscovery for animation fans. If Led Zeppelin had a favorite film, this would be it. In other words, Stairway to Hell. (In Japanese with English subtitles.)

I could not buy tickets fast enough. That sounds straight-up bananacakes and I didn’t care if it was good or bad or anything, I need to see whatever the hell is being described here. And now I have a bunch of thoughts. I don’t think I can spoil the movie or even do it justice but I will be describing certain aspects in detail so if you want to see it unspoiled don’t read the rest of this entry.

  • The illustrations of this film are beautiful. You can see very clearly where one artist did one scene and a different artist took on another. Each one incorporated their distinct style while still moving the story along. I wish more animated films were made this way. I loved that.

    I also enjoy that even though the story takes place in medieval Europe and is drawn by Japanese people the style is totally 1973. So many shots look like a sewing pattern from that time.
  • The music in Belladonna of Sadness, also really good. There’s a variety of different musical themes: sad folksy songs, creepy organ music, psychedelic saxophones, all manner. The soundtrack is great.
  • Even though the lead of the film, Jeanne, is female, this is in no way a feminist film. Not even close. It is glaringly apparent that this is taken from a heterosexual male perspective, my God. The strongest example: Jeanne, regardless of what horrors are being inflicted on her, is smokin’ hot all the time. And unnecessarily naked. Oh, the whole village is chasing her into the forest and calling her a witch? Have her clothes conveniently fall off. Make sure her exposed boobs are visible even in scenes where she’s having a genuine emotional moment. The film is so obviously written with a miasma of boner-mist over the whole thing, it’s non-stop and exhausting.
  • The amount of time Jeanne spends laying on the ground or being flung to the ground like a victim is ridiculous. I didn’t get all the screengrabs but here is a partial collection. There’s a ton more.
  • Another male viewpoint: The main way Jeanne feels sexual pleasure is being impaled on phallii. She craves it, she seeks it out, it’s her jam. I know this film came out in 1973 when female pleasure hadn’t been fully explored but armed with the knowledge we have now fifty years later, this seems very dated. At one point she is surrounded by butterflies made of dicks because why the hell not.
  • Maybe one of my favorite moments: Jeanne has sex with the devil and when she climaxes a flurry of Peter Max clipart explodes on the screen, including a file cabinet (?). I couldn’t stop thinking about the “1,2,3,4,5” animation from Sesame Street.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcx44e2gnfI
  • Warning: There’s an orgy. It’s a weird Hieronymus Bosch-esque orgy. Aside from the standard couplings there’s a snail and a clam, and I think there’s a goat, and someone’s male parts turn into a giraffe, and someone else’s hindquarters open up and bunnies hop out… it’s a lot. At one point I turned to S. and said, “I think I’ve been doing it wrong all this time because none of this happens to me.” She agreed.

Sooo, see this film? Or maybe don’t? I would see it again but I 100% understand if you don’t want to. Again, it’s a lot. Belladonna of Sadness is an excellent snapshot of an artistic period in both design and music for the early 1970s. That’s a plus. But there’s an upsetting rape scene. That’s a minus. It’s really up to you.