Milan, 28 June 2021

My wife and I, together with our daughter this year, have just finished our annual week-long hike in the Dolomites. We went back to the valley where we had started our hike last year, the Val Fiscalina in Alto Adige (or Sud Tirol).

I will hopefully post my usual photo-essay of the hikes we did, once our daughter sends us the photos – as she repeatedly reminded us, the camera in her iPhone is way better than ours, so she took most of the photos. But here I want to talk about something that happened during an easy hike we took on one of our five days of hiking, to give our muscles a rest. It was along the side of the valley between Sesto and Dobbiaco. Along the way, we crossed this panel.


It was announcing that we were crossing the sources of the Drava River. The Drava River! … I knew this river as a tributary of the Danube, somewhere in the Balkans. Yet here was its source, some 500 km away as the crow flies. To memorialize the moment, I took this picture, just when a young boy happened to be messing around with the stream of water.

my photo

I immediately recognized that pastime from my own childhood, damming and undamming streams; I still enjoy undamming the rivulets that trickle down the side of tracks we hike along, poking away at the amassed debris with my walking sticks. I would also float sticks on streams and watch them disappear around the nearest bend. Where would those sticks end up, I wondered.

Once, when I was a bit older, I spent hours poring over maps of England, trying to figure out how I might be able to kayak down the stream which ran along the bottom of the valley in front of my school, all the way to London. Ah, the foolishness of youth! I’m not sure a kayak would have even fitted in that stream.

A few years later again – I was in my mid teens by then – I was consumed with envy when I discovered that my two cousins had spent a couple of weeks tubing down some river in France. Just the thing I had wanted to do with my kayak!

That evening, I was once again studying maps, to see where the Drava river went. And suddenly, I found myself dreaming up an imaginary tubing journey down the Drava with my wife, all the way to its mouth on the Danube. This picture gives my readers an idea of what I’m talking about, although this particular tubing expedition is taking place in Tuscany.


I decide that we will start our imaginary tubing journey in San Candido. At its very beginning, the Drava is really a miserable little stream, there’s no way we could float two tubes in it – plus a third one carrying our stuff. But at San Candido, it receives the waters of the much bigger Sextner Bach.


So off we go, down the Drava!

After some 8 kilometers of going east the Drava stream will carry us out of Italy at Prato alla Drava and into the province of East Tyrol in Austria.


30 kilometers later, the stream will bring us to the town of Lienz. Here, the Drava meets the much more powerful Isel River, which bulks it up.


After Lienz, the Drava, a river now, although still a small river, will carry us into the upper Drava valley. We’ll first pass through the Kärntner Tor, or Carinthian Gate, which is a narrowing in the Drava Valley and the entry point into the province of Carinthia.


The river runs between the Kreuzeck range of the High Tauern in the north and the Gailtal Alps in the south. After carrying us past various picturesque villages like the village of Greifenburg


the river will turn sharp left and squeeze through the Sachsenburger Narrows.


We’ll be traveling faster on the more rapid currents and we’ll burst out of the narrows, spinning perhaps in our tubes, to find ourselves floating past Sachsenburg itself.


We will have travelled some 50 km by now since we plonked our tubes down in the stream at San Candido.

Just after Sachsenburg, the river receives the Möll river, swelling it still further.


Maybe a few flecks of gold will cling to our tubes at this point! The Möll, but also the Isel earlier and other streams coming out of the High Tauern Mountains, carry alluvial gold out of these mountains. For several thousand years, pan handlers have earned a modest but honest living along the Drava River downstream of the High Tauern Mountains, panning the river’s detritus for gold, all the way down into Croatia. Even today, some hardy souls try their luck.


We will now be floating by Spittal an der Drau.


Soon after, Villach, the biggest town we’ll have seen so far, will hove into view.


After Villach, the Drava River becomes more of a lowland river, running slower and beginning to twist and turn across the landscape. Our tubes will follow it in these twists and turns, eventually entering the Rosental valley and running along the northern side of the Karawanken mountain ranges. Here, the river, and my wife and I, will end our travels in Austria. We will float gently by Völkermarkt


before following the river south as it slips through a gap in the mountains and enters Slovenia. In total, we will have travelled 255 kilometres in Austria.

Onwards into Slovenia! We will soon reach our first Slovenian town, Dravograd.


The river, and us, will now turn eastward, and after running through a sparsely populated area we will arrive to Maribor.


After admiring the quays of Maribor as we slip by, we will let the river take us southward to Ptuj.


Shortly thereafter, after traveling some 120 kilometres in Slovenia, the river will carry us across the border into Croatia.

Croatia, here we come!

We cruise by Varaždin, which we don’t really see, it being set back from the river. Quite soon after, the Drava is joined by the Mur River.


For 130 kilometers or so, the river now becomes the border between Croatia and Hungary. It has become a very slow-moving river, meandering its way across the landscape, which has become a pleasant forest- and marsh-filled environment.


We will patiently follow the meanders, moving sluggishly past the Hungarian border town of Barcs.


From now on, we’ll have to be careful not to be run over by the ships which begin to ply the Drava for trade. Further on, we will glide past the small Croatian town of Donji Miholjac.


The river now stops being the border with Hungary. On it goes, looping and relooping as it crosses the region of Slavonia.


It will eventually bring us to Osijek.


I think I’ll stop our imaginary journey here. We’ve already travelled some 160 kilometres through Croatia, and some 7 kilometres beyond Osijek the Drava finally flows into, and loses itself in, the Danube.


I don’t think there would be anywhere for us to get off the river there, and I don’t feel like continuing all the way down the Danube to the Black Sea.

Well, that was a nice dream! Alas, I suspect that doing a trip like this in real life wouldn’t be possible. For one thing, the river has been dammed to within an inch of its life, for hydropower. There are no less than 22 hydroelectric stations along the river. Assuming one is even allowed onto the lakes behind the dams, at some point we would somehow have to schlepp our tubes around the dams and down onto the river again – assuming that there would be enough water downstream of the dams to plonk our tubes into. For another, I rather suspect that having one’s bum in the water all day, for something like two weeks (my guess as to how long this little trip would take), might not be too good for the skin of the bum. For a third, the waters of the Drava up to at least the Möll River are all from glacial or snow melt and so would be pretty damned cold. But hey! What would life be like without dreams?

I read, however, that they are constructing a bike path all the way down the river. Maybe it would be more sensible for my wife and me to simply bike down the Drava …



Vienna, 9 September 2019

I think my son was joking when he sent me a note after reading my post on Almdudler telling me that I should now write a post about cabanossi.

To quickly fill in readers who may not be familiar with the cabanos (by the way, one cabanos, two cabanossi), it is a form of dried sausage. It’s great for an after-school snack, and I’m sure there were many occasions when my wife bought the children a kabanos or two after school, washed down with an Almdudler (hence my son’s mischievous remark that a post on Almdudler necessarily required me to prepare a post on cabanossi). My wife would buy what seems to be the most popular brand for children, the KnabberNossi.

my photo

As for the contents of the package, the dried sausage waiting to be eaten, it looks like this.

my photo

There was a Russian girl at the children’s school who – my son claimed – was so enamoured by this brand that she was heard to exclaim, with a rather particular Russian accent, “Ah, Ke-Naber Nossi, they’re sooo gooood!” This expression of love for cabanossi became a bit of a family joke, but actually the Russian girl was completely right. The cabanossi my wife bought were really very good: dry but not too dry, spicy but not too spicy, crunchy but not too crunchy. If you were not careful, a good dozen of these thin dry sausages could quite easily disappear down one’s lug-hole in one sitting.

As I say, I think my son was joking when he suggested that I should write a post on cabanossi, but the problem is that I’m a bit of a nerd and after chuckling a little at my son’s suggestion I began to wonder what exactly this cabanos was. Recalling my son’s dictum every time we ask him to explain something that we think he knows something about (“Google it!”), my fingers strayed to the Safari button on my phone and I was soon off down one rabbit hole after another chasing the elusive cabanos.

What I found was a fascinating tale reflecting the general history of Central Europe from the 18th century down to modern times.

It seems that some form of cabanos-like dried sausage has existed in the Slavic regions of Central Europe since the Middle Ages. The great advantage of this kind of sausage – fruit of the particular way it is cured and smoked – is that it has a very long shelf-life. This, together with the fact that it is quite lightweight, made it an ideal food for travelers to carry on long journeys, hunters to carry on their expeditions into the forests, and armies and navies to carry as supplies for the troops and sailors.

Superimposed on these largely anonymous developments made by a myriad of humble people about a foodstuff which was useful in their lives were the geopolitical struggles of the warrior elites – all those emperors and kings and aristocrats in  Central Europe who pursued their various goals of land-grabbing and aggrandizement over the centuries. I don’t propose to summarize what went on since the records began, it would be far too tedious and anyway not terribly relevant to our story. I will start in 1750, with this political map of Central Europe in that year.


As every reader can see, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth dominated the region, at least as far as size goes. But it was a brittle, fragile polity, run in a most inefficient way. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, desired its territories, while Maria-Theresa, ruler of the traditional Hapsburg lands – Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, plus a few other bits and pieces – wanted to keep a balance between the powers in the region. The net result of all these maneuverings was the Partition of Poland. In three steps – executed in 1772, 1793, and 1795 – Russia, Prussia, and Austria carved the country up between them. Here is a cartoon of the time, showing the rulers of the three countries at work on the first of these partitions: Catherine, one one side, and Frederick and Joseph II (co-regent with his mother Maria-Theresa of Austria), on the other side (the fellow in between seeming to  take off his crown is the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski).


Frederick and Catherine were quite cheerful as they each grabbed a piece of the Polish pie. Maria-Theresa, who was really in charge and told her son Joseph what to do, felt guilty about it all but couldn’t let the other two get too big at her expense. As the cynical Frederick said, “she cries, but she takes”.

This was how political maps looked after the three partitions were completed. Poland was no more.


There was a moment of hope for the Poles when Napoleon entered the scene and tore up the political maps of Europe, but his defeat and the subsequent Congress of Vienna restored everything pretty much to the way it was. In Central Europe, the only thing that changed was that Russia managed to get an even bigger slice of Poland at the expense of Prussia and Austria.


Many of the political, intellectual and cultural elite of Poland emigrated (among them Adam Mickiewicz, who wrote the great nationalistic poem Pan Tadeusz). Bohemia, which had managed to keep some independence under the Hapsburgs, was now integrated into the newly-created Austrian Empire. To use language from later, nationalistic times, the Slavs of Central Europe groaned under the yoke of Vienna, Berlin, and Moscow (while the Slavic regions of South-Eastern Europe groaned under the yoke of Istanbul – but they do not seem to be part of the cabanos story, so we shall ignore them).

And what of the cabanos in all of this?

To answer that question, I have to switch to an alternative spelling of the sausage, kabanos (plural, kabanosy). It seems that the kabanos as such (as opposed to other cured and smoked sausages having kabanos-style properties) originated in Poland. Specifically, its homeland is in what is now eastern Poland, around the borders of what are now Lithuania and Russia. Farmers in that region bred pigs in a special way, making them eat potatoes (this marbles their meat, which gives – it is said – the kabanos a distinct taste). Since the Poles of that region called these pigs kaban, the sausage they made from it was called kabanos.

In the decades after Poland’s disappearance from the map, the kabanos migrated westward and southward, to Germany (through Prussia, I would imagine) and to Austria and Hungary in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire via the Czech lands. I would imagine that it was brought along by Poles who set off to find their fortunes in the domains of their new masters, or perhaps members of the new master races came to Poland, discovered the kabanos, and took it back home. When the kabanos arrived in Germanic (and Hungarian) lands, the spelling changed to the more Germanic cabanos.

The basic recipe changed too. While in Poland the kabanos was made purely from pork, the cabanos became a mix of beef and pork (there have been kabanosy/cabanossi made with other meats – mutton, chicken, even horse and donkey – but these are minor variants and seem to have died out). The spices added to the sausage also varied as it migrated out of Poland, but this seems to have been more an issue of what spices were available locally and of personal tastes.

In the meantime, Poles never gave up their dream of once more having an independent Poland. There were various uprisings, which were all put down, and more emigrations of Poles. Pan Tadeusz was published in Paris, where Adam Mickiewicz was living in exile. The poem mentions the kabanos; perhaps it had become the comfort food of Polish émigrés. There was also one very large change to the political map of Europe, when Germany was unified in 1870 as an Empire.


Then we fast-forward to the 1920s. World War I came and went and with it the three Empires that had dominated central Europe.


Poland was resurrected as a country. Czechoslovakia was created, a country cobbled together from the smaller Slavic regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. Hungary also emerged once more as a separate country, although much smaller; it was shorn of Slavic regions on its borders which were handed over to the new Slavic states which surrounded it.

During all this mayhem, the kabanos/cabanos kept on being made in Poland and in all the countries, new and old, to which it had spread. In particular, it became particularly popular in Poland. The 1920s and ’30s saw a large growth in the kabanos market, a slow standardization of the product, and the emergence of brands: all outcomes of the country’s growing population and its industrialization.

Then came the disaster of the Second World War, when Poland and Czechoslovakia disappeared once again. They reappeared after the war, although Poland’s borders were shifted westward – the Soviet Union took a bite out of its eastern marches, while Poland took a bite out of Germany’s eastern marches – and all the countries of Central Europe fell behind the Iron Curtain.


The Poles’ love for kabanosy was not diminished by Communism. It could even be than in the Proletarian Paradise that Poland had become, the kabanos’s humble origins increased its popularity. The fact is, everyone bought kabanosy, for every occasion, from the grandest to the most humble. Poland’s government may have been communist but it saw a good business in the kabanos. It further strengthened the product’s standardization, and it was one of the few things Poland exported (along with vodka and ham).

Then came the fall of the Berlin wall, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the fall of the Soviet Union itself. Out of all this came a clutch of new (or renewed) countries to the south and east of Central Europe.


The Central European countries all hurriedly joined the EU, to protect them from Russia. And so started the latest drama in the life of the kabanos. Quite soon after its accession, Poland applied to the EU to register the kabanos as a Polish Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG), one of the three trademarks championed by the EU. And here the drift of the kabanos westward out of Poland, which had happened without much fuss during the 19th century, suddenly came into focus. Germany fiercely resisted Poland’s application, claiming that its producers had equal rights to the trademark (the fierceness of Germany’s resistance might have had to do with the touchy relationships between the two countries about the shift eastwards of the Polish-German border). Austria also protested, as did the Czech Republic. Poland discovered that the kabanosy was not its alone; other countries had a claim to it, claims created by the shifting of borders over the last 200 years. The wrangling went on for 10 years before it was finally settled. The deal was that while other countries could call their sausage kabanos (or cabanos), only Polish kabanos (made according to EU standards) could sport the distinctive blue and yellow TSG label.

With that, I leave my readers with a photo of a Polish kabanos I bought in a Polish delicatessen close to the Polish church patronized by many of the Poles who have recently emigrated to Vienna (I took a bite out of it before taking the photo; I couldn’t wait).

My photo

And as a counterpart, I add a photo of a proper Austrian cabanos purchased a few days later in my local supermarket.

My photo

Delicious, both of them! (although my wife, the other taster, deems the Polish version to be tastier). I urge readers to hunt out their nearest Polish delicatessen (or German or Austrian or Czech delicatessen, if they have one) and try this sausage. And have an Almdudler along with it!


Beijing, 21 December 2013

I was 13 when I started wearing jackets. They were part of our school uniform. I shucked them off when I went to University, along with many other habits both material and spiritual, but in the case of jackets it was a brief reprieve. Once I entered the workforce, it was back to wearing jackets. I suffered at first but now I don’t mind anymore. Whenever I see my wife rummaging around in her bag muttering under her breath that she could swear she put it in (“it” being any number of things) and where on earth was it?, I thank Fate that men wear jackets. Because to me jackets have become the equivalent of a handbag, except that contrary to handbags the pockets are all handily separated. This makes it so much easier to retrieve my stuff: mobile phone in the left-hand external pocket, packet of paper handkerchiefs in the right-hand external pocket, glasses and computer stick (you never know when you might need to copy a document) in the inside left-hand pocket, passport and pens in the inside right-hand pocket, clip-ons in the breast pocket, business cards in that little inside pocket down towards the left, from which you can fish out a card and present it to your interlocutor in one smooth, fluid, business-like movement.

This close relationship in my mind between the handbag and the jacket has meant that I am relatively insensitive to the sartorial aspects of jacket wearing. Frankly, I would just keep wearing the same jacket for ever if I could – such a nuisance to have to shift everything to the pockets of the new jacket! And having to make choices in the morning about what new jacket to wear, when really all I want to do is to go back to bed, is very tough. But luckily my wife is at hand to firmly guide me through the relatively frequent decision-making process of jacket-changing.

At this point, you would be excused if you thought that I am completely uninterested in jackets as fashion statements. But actually from time to time I have been able to appreciate a style in jackets. This happened, for instance, when we moved to Vienna. I noticed with great interest that many men wore jackets like this

Trachten jacket

Commonly called a Styrian jacket, its cut is a cross between the traditional gear which hunters wore in the Alpine valleys of the Austrian province of Styria


and early 19th Century military uniforms, which we see here (for reasons which will soon become apparent) being shown off by Archduke Johann of Austria, 13th child (no less) of Emperor Leopold II.

Archduke Johann

To my mind, the collar is what makes the Styrian jacket very distinctive, although as the last photo shows it has been reduced considerably compared to its military forebear.

Unfortunately, wearers of this type of jacket in Austria are normally making a strong social statement. They are usually advertising their conservative credentials, which is why many wearers are of the older generation:

old fogey

Although its distant roots are in the Styrian peasantry, the jacket’s recent pedigree is very aristocratic. It was brought from the Styrian farms to Vienna’s imperial court in the early 19th Century by the same Archduke Johann I just mentioned. Initially considered with suspicion by Crown and aristocracy (Archduke Johann was a tad too close to the people for them), it eventually caught on and was popularized (if that’s the word) by the Austrian upper classes and their hangers-on in the middle classes. Which is no doubt why Christopher Plummer’s Captain von Trapp  is shown wearing one in The Sound of Music

Christopher Plummer-sound of music

Wearing the jacket can also have strong political overtones, declaring the wearer’s oh-so Austrian credentials, a rampart against the sea of dubious Eastern European influence lapping up against the edges of the country’s pristine Alpine ranges. Which is why Jörg Haider, the far Right governor of the province of Carinthia, liked being seen in the Carinthian version of this jacket (the earth tones, the “good earth of Carinthia” is what makes the jacket specifically Carinthian).


But actually you don’t have to belong to the huntin’-and-shootin’ set, or want to make a political statement about smelly foreigners, to wear this jacket. To my mind, it works brilliantly well in more casual “modern” settings


where the somewhat militaristic cut of the jacket contrasts pleasingly with the relaxed style of the rest of the outfit.

I have one such Styrian jacket, a light summer one, but I left that behind in Vienna. I have another winter jacket with me in Beijing, which is actually a Bavarian Miesbacher jacket (so I suppose strictly speaking the title of this piece is wrong – but the Bavarians and the Austrians are very similar, even in their sartorial preferences, sharing as they do the same Alpine history).


The Chinese look at me curiously when I wear the jacket, and sometimes they ask me what it is. I explain, but I don’t think they really appreciate; I suppose you need to have seen an Alpine valley or two.

The interesting thing is that the Chinese, or rather the Manchu of the Qing imperial court, created a style which was a precursor for a similar jacket in the UK, where the collar is often called the Mandarin collar. This picture of Qing dignitaries nicely shows the collar in its original setting:

Manchu men

After the collision of East and West in China, with the West coming out on top, this traditional dress morphed into a jacket, in response to the “modern” forms of Western wear invading China. It is commonly thought that Mao Zedong popularized the new style – and in fact the collar is often referred to as a Mao collar – but actually it is to Sun Yat Sen, the first President of modern China and founder of the Kuomintang, that this honour should go:

Sun Yat Sen

(which, as a trivial aside, I suppose must be the model for the jacket worn by Dr. No, the arch-evil adversary of James Bond in the 1962 film of the same name.)


This sartorial strand is somehow mixed up with another strand emanating from India. There, during the 1940s the Indians developed the Band Gale Ka Coat, Urdu for “Closed Neck Coat”, an apt name indeed.  This coat became a global star thanks to another leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of modern, post-colonial India, who was often seen wearing a version of it.


All of this gave rise to the British variant of the “closed neck” jacket, the so-called Nehru jacket:


The interesting thing is that while the Austrian version of the jacket tends to be favoured by the right-wing elements of society, in its heyday – the Swinging Sixties – the British version was favoured by the left-wing elements, or at least the cooler, hipper set. Taking rock bands as a good indicator of all things cool, we have here a photo of The Who, where you will notice Roger Daltry wearing a Nehru jacket

The Who

while in this photo, we have – gasp! shriek! tearing of hair! – John and Paul of the Fab Four sporting Nehru jackets during a concert

The Beatles

Why, even in the US the Nehru jacket made its appearance among the modish set, as this ad with Sammy Davis Jr attests!

Sammy Davis Jr

So with such stellar support I don’t suppose I can be very far off the mark in thinking that the closed neck style for a jacket is kinda nice. Nowadays, though, in the UK the style seems to be more in the purview of women, as shown by this photo from last year of Catherine Ashton at one of the many meetings she held with the-then Iranian negotiator on nuclear issues, Saeed Jalili:

European Union foreign policy chief Ashton and Iran's chief negotiator Jalili pose for the media before their meeting in Baghdad

No matter. I will continue to beat my lonely path with my Bavarian jacket in China.

And I need to look into the shirt which Jalili is wearing. It’s pretty nifty, eliminating as it does the need for a tie, which is no bad thing. Another piece of clothing which I was required to start wearing, along with jackets, when I was 13 …

Trachten jacket: http://www.oktoberfest-dirndl-shop.co.uk/images/articles/Trachtenjacke_Stachus_anthrazit_v1_894.jpg [in http://www.oktoberfest-dirndl-shop.co.uk/men/trachten-jackets/138/traditional-jacket-stachus-anthracite%5D
Styrian hunter: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Styrian_Hunter.jpg [in http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Styrian_Hunter.jpg%5D
Archduke Johann: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/0/0d/1782_Johann-1.JPG [in http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_von_Österreich%5D
Old fogey: http://www.alpen-lifestyle.de/shopimages/t_240x/lf_oberoesterr_anzug_gr.jpg [in http://www.alpen-lifestyle.de/24.html%5D
Christopher Plummer-Sound of Music: http://d1w7nqlfxfj094.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Chris-Plummer3.jpg [in http://www.actclassy.com/2013/05/lets-start-at-the-very-beginning-ten-reasons-the-sound-of-music-should-never-be-remade/%5D
Haider: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/red/blue_pics/2008/10/23/Haider1.jpg [in http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/23/jorge%5D
Steireranzug: http://www.heuundstroh.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/_/m/_mg_0155.jpg [in http://www.heuundstroh.com/trachtenanzug-innsbruck%5D
Miesbacher jacket: http://www.country-online.com/images/product_images/original_images/931_0.jpg [in http://stadtfuhrer22.bloggum.com/post/miesbacher-trachten-jacke.html%5D
Manchu men: http://store.tidbitstrinkets.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Manchumen-LC-USZ62-56123.jpg [in http://www.asiafinest.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t275297.html%5D
Sun Yat Sen: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Sunyatsen1.jpg/556px-Sunyatsen1.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen%5D
Dr. No: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-YsnLPzQA9o8/UHeA4lcPgXI/AAAAAAAACe0/m78FM-vE0LU/s1600/Dr%252520No%2525207.jpg [in http://silent-volume.blogspot.com/2012/10/according-to-wikipedia-quarter-of.html%5D
Nehru and Jackie Kennedy: http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Nehru-and-Jackie-Kennedy.jpg [in http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/nehru-jacket-guide-mao-suit/%5D
Nehru jacket: http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Nehru-Jacket-in-grey-with-pocket-square.jpg [in http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/nehru-jacket-guide-mao-suit/%5D
The Who: http://24.media.tumblr.com/26974fed8aa5c8fe98df29ffdda9b503/tumblr_mjkb5uMlx51rvno3ho1_500.jpg [in http://dandyinaspic.blogspot.com/2013_07_01_archive.html%5D
The Beatles: http://static.ibnlive.in.com/pix/slideshow/05-2013/jumpsuits-lbd-platform/nehru-jacket-may-9.jpg [in http://ibnlive.in.com/photogallery/13406.html%5D
Sammy Davis Jr: http://c590298.r98.cf2.rackcdn.com/YMM6_062.JPG [in http://www.ebay.com/itm/1968-Ad-Nehru-Suit-Sammy-Davis-Jr-Groshire-Austin-Leeds-Tailor-Men-60s-Fashion-/301019399979%5D
Ashton and Jalili: http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ashtonjalili.jpg [in http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/09/2148/report-iran-eu-nuclear-negotiators-to-meet-in-istanbul/%5D


Beijing, 3 August 2013

I was in Vienna a few weeks ago – it is always good to show your face from time to time in Headquarters to remind your colleagues that you still exist – and my wife accompanied me because we had decided to go on vacation at the same time. Since we had a free morning, we decided to visit the Leopold Museum.

The museum is part of a very nice urban recovery scheme which the Austrian government undertook some ten-fifteen years ago. There being no imperial horses to house anymore, the old imperial stables had fallen on hard times. So the city decided to turn the stables into a Museums Quarter, made a deal to purchase the art collection of a certain Rudolf Leopold, and built two art museums on the premises, one for his modern art

Leopold Museum

and one for his contemporary art


(is there a deeper meaning to the colour scheme of the museums’ cladding?)

For those readers who plan to visit Vienna, the Quarter is just across the road from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the country’s premier museum of fine arts, which houses the old imperial collection. This is a truly fantastic collection, which alone is worth a visit to Austria. One of my favourites there is Caravaggio’s “Madonna of the Rosary”.


As for the Leopold Museum, it has a great collection of early 20th Century Austrian, German and Central European art. I particularly like its collection of Egon Schieles. The very first time my wife and I went to Vienna, back in the early 80s, we stumbled on Mr. Leopold’s collection, hung at that time in a cramped house somewhere in the outskirts of Vienna. His Schieles knocked my socks off as they say. I particularly remember this one.

Egon Schiele

With the art from these fantastic collections almost spilling out onto the pavements of Vienna (and I haven’t even mentioned the Belvedere or the Albertina or the smaller collections), it’s not surprising that it is here that I started my own – very, very modest – art collection. The spark that lit the fuse was the Dorotheum.


Wonderful, wonderful place, the Dorotheum. It’s an auction house, but the marvelous thing about it is that it has two whole floors where the price is fixed and you can buy the articles on the spot. Which is great, because auctions make me nervous; I only went to one auction at the Dorotheum – where Mr. Leopold was present, by the way – and the speed with which the prices levitated (on a particularly nice painting by a Hungarian artist) gave me palpitations. These two floors have more the feel of a jumble sale, full of horrible stuff, but where you feel – you know – that the piece of your dreams is just behind that dreadful cabinet in the corner. And in the spirit of a jumble sale the prices in these parts of the Dorotheum are – relatively speaking – affordable.

My first piece of art was hanging in a corner, in the dead end of a section dedicated to carpets.

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When I first spied it behind the carpets, it was woebegone, sagging in the middle, dust covering its frame. But it cried out to me: “Take me! Take me!” That riot of flowers and fruit against that cubist-type background of mountains! That river, with the small town on its bank! The happy people! It had to be mine!! But the price made me hesitate – it was 400 euros or thereabouts. And it would need fixing and cleaning. I dithered and dathered, I went back a few times, I was like one tormented. Eventually, my wife took over and gently pushed me towards the purchase.

They say that the first murder is the most difficult; after that, it gets easier and easier. I think it’s the same with the purchase of art. In relatively short order after that, I purchased, always at the Dorotheum, this gouache, a naïf view of the Seine in early 19th century Paris:

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(the apparent sun in the background is actually my camera’s flash)

This aquarelle, an 18th Century view of Kashmir:

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(same comment about my camera’s flash)

This oil painting, of a tramp ship ploughing its way through the waves:

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(I bought it because it reminded me powerfully of the poem “Cargoes” by John Masefield, whose last verse is:
“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays”)

This aquarelle, by the same artist, of fishing boats off the coast of Britain:

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This print, of a barn half buried in the snows of Upper Austria:

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It was just as well that we left for China. My wife was becoming anxious about how the art was slowly invading the walls of our apartment; she has always preferred bare white walls and generally uncluttered internal vistas. I could not bear to have these sitting in the dark of a warehouse in Vienna waiting for us to come back. We took them all down to Milan, where they hang in our apartment. I took the photos above a few weeks ago, when we passed through.

The wonderful thing about these pieces is that they have allowed me to also unfurl my passion for history, giving me an excuse to dig around into their past. For instance, the Dorotheum claimed that the first painting was a view of Dürnstein, north of Vienna on the Danube (and in whose Castle Richard I was kept prisoner for a while). But after revisiting the place, I am convinced that this is not so; the banks of the river are not that steep on both sides. The picture framer who cleaned and fixed the painting was also not convinced of the appellation. He thought it was the upper Moselle River; a visit there is on my to-do list. As for the gouache, it was sold to me by the Dorotheum as an urban landscape in northern Belgium. Not so! For reasons which I won’t go into here but have to do with research I did on that shop on the right hand side of the painting, I am convinced that it is a view of the Seine River in Paris, looking upstream from Pont Notre-Dame, one of the bridges linking the Île de la Cité with the Right Bank. For its part, the view of Kashmir was, according to the Dorotheum, a view from western China (which is why I bought it; I already knew then that I would be going to China). Research on my part quickly showed me that actually it is a well-known view of a rope bridge near Srinagar. Really, the Dorotheum is doing some very sloppy work here – but it’s more fun for me.

With the Dorotheum no longer just a few subway stops away, the collecting passion has slowed – the apartments are smaller too. We have bought a piece or two, which when we take them back will remind us of our stay in China, rather like those old English colonels who came back from the Empire with bits and bobs of native paraphernalia, which they would proudly display in their retirement home at Bournemouth.


Leopold Museum: http://de.academic.ru/pictures/dewiki/76/Leopold_Museum_%28Vienna%29.jpg
MUMOK: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Museum_Moderner_Kunst_Stiftung_Ludwig_Wien.jpg
Caravaggio: http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav18.jpg
Egon Schiele: http://kellypahl.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/2.jpg
Dorotheum: http://static3.kleinezeitung.at/system/galleries_520x335/upload/3/6/3/2430195/dorotheum030810apa726.jpg
the rest are my pictures