Monday, January 11, 2010

Gwenyth now understands the wood issue

Hermitage, St Petersburg

Gwenyth and I went to buy some more wood. Gwenyth is not a party girl and likes to sit at home in front of the fire at night and watch movies. We have lots of these and on Sunday watched Das Boot – a classic German movie about a U-Boat. This went for about 5 hours and was a 20 log fire – so a shortage loomed. Not as bad as the UK Grit Shortage remind you – but potentially a problem.

Over the last week we have watched Dr Strangelove, Enemy At The Gates, Stalingrad (the classic German film by Joseph Vilsmaier), Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. That was War Week, we are now moving onto politics.

Gwenyth now understands the difficulty of buying wood and getting it into the apartment and asked the question I have often asked myself ‘Is there an easier way to do this?’ She has two Masters degrees but came up with the same answer I did oh so long ago – ‘yes – get someone else to do it’.

On Friday we went to Plachutta so that Gwenyth could partake of the Boiled Beef. We arrived precisely on time but were shunted for 15 minutes into the bar area – which was full of smokers – to cool our heels while our table was prepared.

Our complaints about being left to stand in a smoking area were met with an uncaring shrug – ‘we only have one waiting area’ but we got our revenge by hanging our coats on the wrong pegs and causing chaos. Apparently each table has its own pegs and our thoughtlessness cascaded throughout the restaurant and had guests scratching and biting each other as they fought over coats and pegs while hapless waiters tried to restore order.

Gwenyth said that she was glad she had the Boiled Beef for the experience of doing so but it is not likely to be added to her repertoire for Sydney dinner parties.

Saturday was more exciting and we went to our current favourite restaurant – Cantinetta Antinori. This is always very good – but was a bit too smoky on the night. We had a really good waiter who pretended that we could speak German and didn’t grit his ears when we ordered things.

On Monday Gwenyth and I went to the ‘amusement park’ at the Prater where I rode the Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel) for the first time. This is not a ride for thrill seekers as it travels at glacial speed but we had fun looking at all the landmarks through a light sprinkling of snow that was falling at the time.

I had always imagined that the amusement park would be absolutely gruesome and it met my expectations precisely. Fortunately it was closed – apart from the Casinos – so we were not tempted to go on any of the rides - or indeed the ghost train. But look – I am just a curmudgeon and I am sure it would appeal to small children - or short-sighted people with no sense of shame.

On Monday we also visited the former home of Ernst Fuchs who is one of Wien’s most famous artists. He lived in the former Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf. Herr Fuch’s art is not really my cup of tea as I can never get the hang of art where a person’s intestines are on the outside of the body – and there are far too many religious bits for my liking – but his mother had him baptized as a Catholic to avoid his being sent to a concentration camp so I can understand his enthusiasm.

It is a fantastic house – in the true sense of the word – and is certainly worth seeing.

It is fascinating to watch the airlines and security agencies in action after each attempted or actual or terrorist attempt. The underpants bomber has caused complete chaos throughout the world and we experienced some of this coming back from St Petersburg. Interestingly – no one wanted to look in our underpants and were still focusing on shoes. Perhaps they didn’t get the security update bulletins.

There have been a couple of incidents on the USA recently where really stupid people have made really stupid remarks while on board planes. Things like ‘how do you know I don’t have a bomb in my underpants?’

These types of comments inevitably prompt the return of the plane to the place from which it started and the arrest of the dickhead who made the comment. Interestingly – the last couple of incidents have prompted the Air Force to scramble fighter jets in case they have to shoot the airplane down.

Excuse me?

I think this is a slight overreaction to someone who has dust for brains and would prefer it if the flight attendants would just club him senseless with a stale croissant– especially if I am on board.

I imagine we are quite safe at the moment. The only person in the USA at the moment with dynamite in his underpants is Tiger Woods and he has his own plane.


  1. Why is it we can scramble a bunch of fighter jets when some f*ckwit makes an offhand remark, but we can't manage to do so when a dozen intelligence agencies send us urgent reports about an upcoming attack on the World Trade Center?

  2. I love that picture, story-book image!

    I survived a ride on the Ferris Wheel. I was scary, very scary. Maybe because I took a night ride. Just before reaching the top, I called my daughter, to make sure I could talk to her one last time. She was quite amused. Me, cowering on the floor of a railway car high up in the air, had to listen to her calling me a scaredy-cat. Nest time, at the Prater, I shall eat Würstl. Scary too, but at least I shall not be high up in the air!

  3. I enjoy the tender texture of the famous Tafelspitz, but flavour-wise it is underwhelming - I always find myself comparing it unfavourably with an haute cuisine bourgiugnon. The imperial patronage attached to the dish also raises an ironic smile, given that the tradition of boiling beef once had a strong working class following in places like the East End of London (boiling the beef for hours being essential to tenderise the cheaper cuts).

    I too have enjoyed the weird and wonderful experience that is the Fuchs Haus. I'm quite sympathetic to 20th century art - despite many of the valid comments made against it - but I do think that Fuchs's work is of questionable quality. However the house itself certainly makes up for what the art lacks. Professor Fuchs also has a studio around the corner from you (one of a few he maintains in Wien) - be on the look-out for an elderly bearded eccentric dressed a bit like the Marquess of Bath. If I remember rightly (I know this from an celebrated fixture and astute social observer of the Diplomatenviertel, but may possibly be misquoting her) it's in a building owned by Christian Palmers. The thought of psychadelic artist and lingerie magnate in the same building brings to my mind surreal and exotic images of the wild parties I imagine might go on.

  4. @ Parsifal:
    The few times I have tasted Tafelspitz - tasted only, because I'd never order a whole portion for myself - I was always left wondering why people raved about it. The first few months here I was lucky enough to find a butcher in my neighbourhood who sold organic meat. I ordered meat for Tafelspitz and cooked it according to the butcher's wife's instructions: Simmer at 80°C for four hours. I did and it was quite delicious, still pink, but tender as can be, and went very well with the horseradish sauce made with Semmerl, scalloped potatoes and red cabbage (that's how I remember it from childhood meals my mother made).

    However, I prefer a properly grilled steak! Tafelspitz-Lust must be a gene thing, remote memories of days when a meat dish was still something rarely enjoyed, back when even shoe leather boiled to tenderness was a delicacy (as Charlie Chaplin demonstrated in "Gold Rush" - anything to fill the tummy).

  5. Horseradish sauce made with Semmerl, scalloped potatoes and red cabbage - all together? What a combination! You must tell me more...

  6. Nice, but I didn't see the Hermitage in the snow! Ah, Das Boot, on BBC they usually take about six weeks to show it - riveting!
    Your wood gathering sounds like a scene from Dr Zhivago. I like Prater, wandering in the woods, you can see Middle Spotted Woodpeckers (Mitelspecht there, unknown in GB.