Vienna, 4th September 2020
being here for the first time in a couple of years has made me do a lot of thinking. So far Vienna has weathered the Covid-19 storm better than most big Western cities I’ve either seen or read extensive reports from, however, even before the virus arrived a lot of stores and some bars I used to frequent either closed or changed dramatically. So, I’m very glad that shortly after my last visit you were able to come here and got to experience the city when it was still on top form, complete with its own special arrogance.
I’m even more glad that it was possible to show you my Berlin and my London before they experienced much more major upheavals than Vienna. Although I never set out to show you my New York in the same way, and you know that city well enough yourself, I was also able to do the same thing with NYC to some extent. I’m so glad all this was possible and that you found interesting not only because of these cities intrinsic interest, but also because they shaped the way I think and how I see the world. I don’t want to beam myself back to the “good old days”, but in all of these cities some things that are important to me have been lost and others will go by the time the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
However, that’s not why I’m writing today. It’s to fill you in on what I do when I return to “my” cities, either alone or in company. At first here’s always an element of nostalgia, plus some curiosity to see if and how familiar places have changed, but this is only “foreplay”. As I wander around though I’m also looking for stuff that I lost or forgot. It’s rather like going to a favorite bookshop in the hope that serendipity will lead you to a great book you didn’t realize existed when you walked in the door, except that when the book’s “in my hand” I recognize it as a long lost friend. The interesting thing about this is that it only happens if I manage to become completely absorbed by the city and my mind is totally emptied of all the everyday trivialities. That feeling of recognition is delicious, because of the conviction that this thing has rediscovered me and that it is a thread that if I follow it will lead me somewhere surprising I could have gone a long time ago, but for some reason didn’t.
Vienna is a very old city, not only in the strict historical sense, but also in terms of the widespread awareness of its past amongst the citizens and without that I don’t think that I would have discovered Hauenstein back at the end of the 1990s when I spent a lot of time in Vienna, or that I would remembered him today, more than twenty years later. He has an extremely rare combination of mutations that mean he ages very slowly and is now much older than anyone else you or I know. Alternatively, he may be suffering from a delusion coupled with extraordinary historical knowledge and a great acting ability that enable him to persuade highly intelligent people he really was there when major historic events occurred.
When I get home I’ll dig out his story and read it through again. I would send it to you, but it’s in German It’s one of many writing projects that got left at the wayside because other work that brought in money became pressing for various reasons (sometimes I desperately needed the money!) Loose ends, frayed edges and a lingering feeling that time is now getting short. At the same time the pressing knowledge distances that for most of my life were no more than short hops are now like the great voids between the planets and will probably remainso for a long time to come.
Thanks again for the chance to give you an introduction to “my cities” as I experienced them and how they make me see the world. That was a very special pleasure!