Tuesday, June 29, 2010

reports from Vienna, # 1

At Heathrow airport, my first touch down in Europe (though the Brits would see this a bit different), it takes time until I hear the first German words–about the world soccer cup, football, Fußball as we call it–it is German German, not this slouchy Viennese or the Austrian Midwestern that is Upper Austrian. I can’t remember what this voice said about the game but it is significant for what is going to happen during the following weeks.

I am surprised by the narrow Austrian roads, the tiny cars, the lush, green landscape–it has been raining for weeks I am told, and now it is the first sunny day in a while, everyone emerges from a state of late hibernation and depression but the unfriendliness that is all around (and that I am going to encounter when dealing with by bank account the next day) is not due to this but obviously a state of mind, some state of mind.

The character of the traffic, pedestrians, bikes, cars, trans, buses–everywhere!!–the narrow roads is still surprising and scary. I remember how I got used to it within days after my return last year, but now it seems to stay on a disproportional level. I have adopted to a different kind of scale–even a little bit to a system that is not metric–a system, a scale that feels different, that allows for much more personal space than anywhere else which is understandable considered the amount of space actually available on a continent, in a country. Still it is surprising how a sensory system can adapt to something that is so decisive for the formation of identity.

I am also overwhelmed by the crowd of people watching the football games in public, or semi-public space, or at least at open air screenings. Something it is easy to confuse this in this city. The screenings take place on gigantic screens that are either part of cafes or bars in a park or in an area near the Wienfluß (Vienna river) that runs through the city center and has been revitalized only within the past five years (with two exceptions)–this means in Austrian terms: get a lot of bars/restaurants there, start small with a couple of hipster Szene-things, then the early adopters and the rest of the crowd follows until it gets unstoppable, uncontrollable, finally a segregation between cool and the rest is taking place and that’s it. Basta. the masterplan (if there has been one once) is not recognizable any more and everyone is following the same concept that is merrily supported by the Viennese city authorities. This is called private-public partnership.

(For the background, non phenomenological info on this I can thank the weekly magazine Falter that just published an article about the connections between gastronomy and city authorities. The Falter is kind of the LA weekly of Vienna, but it is not for free. This results in less or no ads for any kind of private service or gentlemen’s entertainment (always fun). And I am surprised that, when I turn the magazine, that there is no half-naked American Apparel ass smiling at me but an ad for an I-phone substitute, the smart phone, and a phone provider. The Falter is the leftist weekly magazine and feels incredibly tame or everything is just so fine and nice here. In Vienna.)

There are other real public screens sponsored by the city, at some famous Ringstraßen-buildings: at the city hall/Rathaus, I think, an operafestival, at the opera/Staatsoper there is a concert festival, two open-air movie theaters are situated in a park and at Karlsplatz. We have a "new" tradition of public screenings. Somehow the movies, cinema, is brought back to its origins: a mass audience, at a fair or an amusement park environment . The city is like a gigantic amusement park at this time of the year anyway. An amusement park, a gigantic theme park, that seems to be for free, the methods of exclusion, the rituals of entry/payment/credibility are quite subtle–with a few exceptions, but people don’t seem to care about it. The surplus, its unique selling proposition is its history; compared to any other theme park, its history guarantees the authenticity of this place, its functioning as a palimpsest that has more layers than we can imagine.

The screen at the side of the opera is gigantic and shows concerts. When I pass by I see the omnipresent crowd of people just looking up and staring somewhere, at a point/screen/thing that is not visible to me yet. They stand around a pavilion that sells tickets for the opera. It’s too early in the evening and still too light for the screening and so every time the camera zooms in the image of players, I see a mixture of brown, flesh-tones, black white and brown wooden-tones. When it zooms back I see a bunch of violin virtuosos.

What is so fascinating about these screenings? The atmosphere, the community, the common experience, being excited and jumping up with a crowd if a team scores. As long as there is food and drinks I assure myself that people don’t get violent. But I don’t know. The atmosphere has something scary, I already left two screenings during the games.

I tell my mom that I am not used to this kind of crowds anymore as it is easy to avoid them in Los Angeles. There is basically no public space for these gatherings (except the staples center), there is no public space. I know, I know, the old story. My mom says, Los Angeles is a village. She is right. I think it doesn’t make sense to analyze the city in terms of a city anymore, or the “postmodern” city, the “sprawl”, the “mega-city,” the whatever-city, but to analyze the village-like character of this city: what are its terms, the structures that make it a village and how do these function together? I want to see this conceptualized! I want a theory that acknowledges this! Finally. It is a pre-city structure that we have to deal with, people probably never wanted to have a city here–not to speak about a European model of a city–but just an agglomeration of settlements, not 10 stories high, but manageable. With an observatory representing the master gaze. and its ball(s).

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