Monday, 14 July 2014

reading and holidaying

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Pictures of a perfect June weekend in Vienna, packed with sun, football, Edmund de Waal's perfect installation in the Theseus temple, and so many loved ones.

Since my return to London I have been reading like I used to read as a teenager, reading to distract myself: The Paris Review (interviews with Alan Hollinghurst and Jeffrey Eugenides; short stories by Clarice Lispector; poetry); Eleanor Catton (The Rehearsal and The Luminaries); Asko Sahlberg's The Brothers ; Lukas Bärfuss' Koala; The Iliad; The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes.
I have started to read differently. Of the books listed above, Catton was the first New Zealand author (other than Katherine Mansfield, whom I always think of as British) I'd read; Sahlberg possibly the first Finnish author; Bärfuss the first Swiss author in years and years (and what a fantastic book it is - here's hoping it'll be translated into English); and The Rime of the Modern Mariner is only my second graphic novel, and, like the first, was given to me as a gift.
All new to me because in my heart of hearts I'm always secretly looking for the next Middlemarch. There are few things that I like more than a truly absorbing 600-page Victorian novel - no surprise then that I loved, loved, loved The Luminaries! I've been stuck in my ways for a long, long time. I've absorbed much of the English-language canon; I've read more in English than I have in German. Ironically, my job has made me much more aware of how difficult it is for German-language authors to get translated into English; how closed off and conservative the book market can be; how much we're missing out on. I am now determined to change my own reading patterns, to improve my foreign language skills, to seek out literature in translation.
And to seek out literature in languages that I can actually read (sort of), but never really practice. On this note: I'm off to Paris and Copenhagen for my first non-Austrian, non-UK holiday in over a year. Send any tips and recommendations my way (book-related or café-related or something else entirely). I'm mostly looking forward to tall apartment buildings, cafés that specialise in porridge, and long walks.

Monday, 7 July 2014

here for a year

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This is me in 2014: in Edinburgh a few days ago, in Vienna a couple of weeks ago, and in Sheffield for the Doc Fest. I have been reading novels and short stories and essays hungrily. I have started taking pictures with my grandfather's old camera again. I have made plans and jokes and I have spent my lunch hour with friends and I have watched football by myself in the pub. I have been in London for a year. I have been in London for a year and nothing sums up this year better than this: I have watched football by myself in the pub.

I always felt that watching football (or any other sport - preferably stuff involving snow) encourages and enables my favourite form of togetherness, a kind of lazy quietude where no one says anything clever, where no one says anything at all even, where you reach a level of comfort where you can just float away into a sea of banality. It takes years, perhaps a lifetime, to reach that point. Definitely not something that you get when you watch football by yourself in a pub.

A year in which I have learned to love those I love even more. Because every time I see them (too rarely), I'm struck anew by how much I like them. Or, as my brother said when he dropped me off at the airport, 'Maybe I'll come visit you in London after all. Every time I see you I remember how much I like you and how much I like spending time with you.' Same, little brother. Same.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

up

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Last week I took the train to Scotland. The East Coast mainline is my happy place - sitting down for the journey up North always feels like a treat, an escape. Kevin lives in Edinburgh and he had decided that we would climb a mountain. Peter came up for the day, we all took a train to Pitlochry, bought bread and nuts and apples, and then started walking uphill. It was windy and quiet and excellent. In the mountains I feel free. When we reached the peak we found a place that was sheltered from the wind, sunny and warm. It was just us three up there, eating and talking and laughing. Then we walked back down and ate so much fudge that some of us felt quite ill.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

a bubble

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It was a Wednesday night and we were discussing the differences in mentality and temperament between various German speaking countries. We: an Australian who had lived in the UK, Germany, and Austria, and had settled in London. We: a Swiss person who repeatedly expressed regret, confusion, despair about his country's referendum on migration. We: me, quietly amused because I felt like I had had similar conversations with a wide range of people before. When German-speakers meet, they will analyse each other. Endlessly. Their perceived national characteristics. When German-speakers meet in the UK, there is an implicit understanding that we are more alike here than we will ever be at home - at home, where we often feel like we have nothing in common. Until we find ourselves in a beautiful flat in London on a Wednesday night, and realise that, as much as we wish it weren't so, countries do shape mentalities and sparkling wine loosens the tongue. (I don't drink sparkling wine.)
Where were we? In a beautiful flat near the Barbican which belongs to a cultural attaché who had invited us for an intimate networking dinner. "Intimate" "networking" "dinners" are precisely as odious as the words suggest and I'm still not sure how I got invited to one. At this one, however, I ended up at a table with people I knew and liked, and it felt more like having dinner with people who exist in that strange no man's land that I find impossible to navigate, somewhere between casual acquaintance, work contact, and almost friend. My shoulders relaxed slightly as I sat down.
A little later the violist who sat next to me would turn to me and say, 'I know it's ridiculous, but I only wear APC jeans' and I'd raise my eyebrows and laugh. A little later, I'd walk to the tube stop with a composer who, slightly tipsy, held a brief and touching, very earnest monologue on the merits and inherent timelessness of classical music.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

look

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I guess life is just an endless stream of banalities, and much of the internet reflects that. It only acquires meaning when you personally connect with that person posting a picture of their cappuccino. My life is as banal, as boring, as everyone else's - possibly even more so. I send the boring pictures on my phone to Peter, to my brothers, my mum, my best friend. Look, this is my life. It's not exciting, but I thought of you. 
Look, cacti live on the windowsills of the cinema in Hackney. I saw The Two Faces of January, I think you would have liked it, Viggo Mortensen is amazing, isn't he? 
Look, a Swedish café opened not five minutes from where I live, I went there this morning and ate a cinnamon bun, can you imagine how happy that makes me, to have a local café that I love? The LRB had a couple of articles about Marxism, one of them trying to read the Iliad in a Marxist light, I rolled my eyes a lot and thought of how much you'd hate it, the scathing terms with which you'd tear the article apart.
Look, this is my face, my hair, it's blue, lilac, this is what I look like when I make new friends. We went to see The Drowned Man and I wanted to take a selfie for you to show you the mask I was wearing, but I think I'd rather take you to see it yourself. I thought I wouldn't like The Drowned Man, I wasn't sure about immersing myself, but I loved it. 
Look, this is my reading material for this week, this is a good Sunday. I loved The Charioteer so much, so much that I failed at explaining to my friends why I loved it. As far as I am concerned it's a perfect novel, an extension or counterpart to Iris Murdoch's The Bell (which, as we all know, is my favourite book). The title refers to the Plato myth (souls, horses, etc.), and when I realised that was the case I sighed a tortured little sigh. Ignore the cover or the blurbs on it, read Rachel Cooke's review in The Guardian instead (which is why I bought it - although I disagree with her that "it sometimes seems overly preoccupied with ethics, with high-minded considerations of how a man might live a good and honourable life" - this is pretty much exactly what I love in a novel, give me all your high-minded considerations of goodness please! Maybe that's why I never warmed to most contemporary fiction.) Read this book.
Look, I printed out this poster for you once when you weren't sure about what to do with your life because sometimes simple messages help, even if they're cheesy, even if they feel like hipster self-help, even if they reappear in a shop window in soulless Knightsbridge.
Look. I'm not with you, but I'm thinking of you. I've been listening to this wonderful recording of Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna all week, a concert that I attended. It's beautiful, a real treat, and it will make you feel things.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Two lives: London

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Another tube strike last week; I slept in the smallest guest room at work. The only redeeming factor of this arrangement was that I got to go 'running' in Hyde Park in the morning. My office is not even five minutes from the park. I'm very bad at running, but I like being out and about first thing in the morning. Running is basically an excuse to leave the house in what could be pyjamas, and very ugly shoes, and to observe other runners, people with their dogs, trees, and in this case, people swimming in the Serpentine, or riding their horses.
London: I went to the cinema and saw 'Frank', which I hated - my eyes hurt by the end because I had been constantly rolling them for an hour and a half; a documentary about the poet Michael Hamburger, which I loved; 'M', which we (i.e., the place where I work) were screening; and 'Captain America', because I love a depressing superhero film, and after which it took almost two hours to get back to the flat, two hours in which I almost lost the will to live. 
London: I have been reading the cluster of magazines that I now have subscriptions for, thoughtful gifts from myself and others; an Anthony Trollope novel which is slightly too ironic and knowing for me to really enjoy it - a shame because I haven't read a Victorian novel I really enjoyed in a long time, and I thought this might be the one; and a book about the 'Radical Case for Scottish Independence', which is excellent. 
London: I have drunk glass after glass of beetroot smoothies, cups of green chai. I had a day off (the first of May, a public holiday in Austria) and dyed my hair for the first time. Just the tips. Lilac. 
London: I distract myself.

Two lives: Vienna

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In Vienna, I went to the cinema three, four times. The cinemas are cheap and small and old and I don't think too hard about whether a film is 'worth' spending money on; on Saturday nights and Thursday afternoons there are middle-aged ladies talking right up until the film begins, students, elderly men, couples. I saw 'Her' (excellent, to my great surprise), Yves Saint Laurent (rubbish), The Dark Valley (a Western set in the Alps, highly recommended!). I had some time to kill in between seeing best friends and popped into the architecture museum to see an exhibition about socially responsible architecture. I felt anxious and sought refuge in a bookshop, where I bought my first Robert Walser novel. I sat in my brother's car and he played Haim, he played Mozart's Requiem, he played Britney Spears, all in one seamless playlist.
The city was filled with posters advertising the EU election, advertising the different parties. The radio, the papers all cover the EU election extensively. The parliament is covered in a giant banner: Our Europe, Your Choice. I feel emotionally and intellectually invested in Europe, in the EU; the indifference and stupidity of the general discourse about the EU in the UK never ceases to amaze me, and the basic lack of information or interest makes me sad.
I write this sitting in my kitchen in Walthamstow, E17, London, and Vienna seems like a dream. Yesterday the Austrian performer won Eurovision (not Austria, never Austria: if it had been up to 'Austria', the performer would never have been picked - because Austria is still a conservative, small-minded country, and as a commentator pointed out that no, it wasn't Austria that won but someone who supported the idea of tolerance and 'die Vielfalt von Lebensentwürfen'). Today I'm listening to Simon & Garfunkel, this song in particular.