You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2013.
1. So i went to Vienna to meet the Viking and drink Glühwein amidst the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Vienna is distinctly scuzzier than Munich. i walked from the train station to the u-bahn and immediately saw an unimaginably disgusting sight – two giant punks resting their feet on the seats opposite, shouting in Bosche and playing shitty punk music. They also had an amiable-looking dog. No one was sitting anywhere near them and the good citizens of Vienna were shooting them fearful glances. Perversely, i felt as if i was back in England; nostalgia pulled me to sit right next to them and grin at their dog. It’s not that i want to live in a city where young ruffians deliberately dismay the gentry, but after living in Munich (of almost Swiss respectability) i felt a certain pleasure in these villains & their dog. Besides, they seemed to me mostly harmless and far from the genuinely psychopathic monsters abounding in the sceptered isle.
2. Then on to the Viking. Exiled from Germany, he now practices heretical chemistry in nearby Slovakia. We immediately went to the Am Spittelberg Christmas market. Last year, Glühwein was 1.50 € and there were many strange stalls selling things like rose honey and jam and handmade leather artefacts. It’s now the usual 4 € for a Glühwein and there no interesting stalls. It has become standardized and in line with all the other Christmas markets, and so there was no reason to linger. Once again, the modern world has discovered and eliminated a niche of cheap Glühwein and human splendour.
We moved on, disgusted. But at least we chanced upon an excellent, cheap restaurant close by, the Kojote as i called it (“Gasthaus mit Wiener Küche” and “Zum hungrigen Kojoten”). It was a haven of normal humanness in the midst of all the chain restaurants and highly-priced & swanky hipster establishments. There was nothing at all polished or managerialized or machine-like about it.
Excellent Schnitzel for a tenner, plus you can smoke.
3. Being able to smoke indoors is one of the great and naturally brief & soon-to-be-destroyed advantages of Vienna. One waiter told me the EU will end this freedom in the next couple of years; a strange thing, since the militant non-smokers could easily find many non-smoking establishments, but in the name of managerialized standardization all must be the same, that is to say bland and unsatisfying (if it’s not specifically allowed, it is forbidden). For now, i enjoy my brief freedoms.
i bought some cigars for the Viking so he wouldn’t feel left out, but before turning to the Church he spent three decades as a fundamentalist Calvinist Protestant, so has no idea how to enjoy anything except gay Manga, let alone how to smoke.
4. We went to one swanky bar, not sure which one but it was expensive and we had to hand over our manly coats at the door. Good leather sofas and real wood. We got there for happy hour and tried their cocktails, while i smoked. Every cocktail was either 95% ice or presented in a tiny glass, about three tablespoons of real booze for 7 Euros. Good cocktails, if you don’t mind having to order 10 to get enough. They were playing shitty Christmas songs, like most places we frequented. Given the dark wooden tones, the leather sofas, the well-accomplished atmosphere, these jollily bland Christmas tunes were a horrific modernist false step. i asked if they had any Leonard Cohen and to my surprise they played some LC for the next 20 minutes, before reverting to the same dozen shitty seasonal jingles. Later, i wondered why it was so offensive to have to listen to Christmas garbage. i think it was because everything else (bar the miniscule cocktails) was so perfect, that this single jarring mistake ruined everything forever. The tighter the weave of decor and colour, the worse the blunder. We had to listen to a lot of seasonal bollocks, this being the only acceptable offering. We would have preferred this:
5. And then there is Vienna in general. It has, for me, far more literary history than any other city i know. i kept seeing street signs and thinking, That’s in a Thomas Bernhard novel or interview – Türkenschanzpark, Heldenplatz. This is a city where the waiters add up your bill on paper then do mental arithmetic, old school by god. In one cafe, the waitress was frowning her way through mine & the Viking’s account and i could see him twitching with the desire to apply his formidable Chemical Brain to the sums. The streets are a strange mix of modern & traditional. The traditional:
Glühwein in the centre, looking up:
There are, however, many modernist streets, for example the view out of my hotel:
6. We moved on to the Cafe Bräunerhof. i chose it purely because Thomas Bernhard used to read newspapers here. The clientele are mainly locals, as far as i could tell – it’s too far from the u-bahns (10 minutes’ walk), and too nondescript, to attract tourists. It hosts a mixture of normal-looking people and oddities. Here i photographed Theodore Dalrymple (in red) and a doomed poet (in black suit):
It hasn’t changed much since the days of Bernhard. Pleased to discover my heavy jumper vaguely resembles TB’s:
Breakfast on my last morning, alone. The furnishings seem largely unchanged since TB’s time; not tatty, but dated like some of the teahouses i remember from the 80s. It looks a good generation out of date and is the better for it. It has the look of a place removed from the modern world, from any overt agenda, from any kind of advertising. There is one photograph of Bernhard (above) on a wall but apart from that the cafe doesn’t try to make anything of its famed guest. The uniformed waiters, all in their 50s or 60s, greet regulars with hearty handshakes, and me with a look of surprised wariness, as if to say, A tourist has accidentally wandered in, how strange.
On my last morning i enjoyed breakfast alone:
Later i realised i was sitting next to Bernhard’s spot in the famous photograph.
i spent 4 hours there on my last morning, as i had no one to meet. It’s easy to spend hours; something about the place is semi-private; you can write, observe others, eat your eggs, and feel to be more or less protected from too much attention. It was encouraging to find at least one place which hasn’t succumbed to the modern world of managerialization and Southron filth.
7. i briefly pondered moving to Vienna but i like it because i don’t work there. If i lived in Vienna, apart from probably earning less than i do now (the Munich McLingua gave us all a pay rise and i’ve found it’s almost impossible to cobble together enough work from smaller, higher-paying schools) i would have to live in a ghetto and only see the places i work, most likely industrial parks by dual carriageways. Part of a city’s appeal comes from my not working there (the same with Kassel).
It was good to get away from my colleagues, who are all gossips and from whom i have to keep many things secret. In Munich, i only know people with normal jobs or English teachers who are terrified of being fired. The Viking, as a heretical Chemist, is immune to such troubles. He is apt to launch into Gay Manga shops or suddenly start drawing pornography in public. Here, he demanded pen and paper and without explanation launched into yet another Viking Atrocity.
The glorious result of 2 minutes’ frenzy:
And let that be a lesson to you.
1. i feel my enthusiasm for work rapidly dwindling. This last week or two has been full of strange blunders & mishaps, for example i was in the teacher room in McLingua’s Arbeitsamt centre (classes just for the unemployed) and suddenly and for no reason jerked my hand back, caught my finger in the ginger tea bag string and yanked it out of my cup and onto my lap, scalding my majestic belly and equally majestic groin. i was at the time talking to two rather bland female teachers, a hamster-faced young American (with a great ass) and a rather know-it-all black American woman in her 50s. They thought this was hilarious. i pretended to be equally diverted but in truth i blame them and will try to destroy them. Toddball came into the room a few minutes later and i announced, soberly: i have soiled myself. i then pointed at the women and said, They incited me to it.
i’ve now spilt tea three times in the last two weeks. This is unusual for me and suggests some strange malaise or hereditary insanity or black magic. It is however of a piece with my now total lack of interest in my job. i’m simply working too much and have some slightly or very difficult classes, for example i just had a late evening class with two software engineers, one – a dour, square-headed Bulgarian – kept demanding to know why English grammar is the way it is. i occasionally get students like this. He couldn’t understand why i can’t say “I’ve been teaching 3000 students” but can say “I’ve been teaching for 3 years”, and also “I’ve taught for 3 years” and “I’ve taught 3000 students”.
i told him, breezily, that languages have no logic and he must just accept it. He kept arguing and then decided he understood and explained the Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous to me and the other student. i had to point out that his so-called explanation was totally wrong, whereupon he looked thoughtful and then returned to Bulgarianly demanding to know WHY, and so on.
Finally i roared: Why is Tisch der? Why is Schnitzel das? Why is Auto das? Why is Wagen der? Why does die become der in the dative? Why? Why? Why?
Unmoved, he merely leafed through his Bulgarian teach-yourself-English book, trying to puzzle it all out.
When the class ended (at 2045) i felt close to physical collapse and could barely make it downstairs and to the s-bahn. Earlier, with my Arbeitsamt class, i had likened English teaching to prostitution (one of the students, a hot German biotch, said she had joked with her mother about becoming a whore). In truth, teaching isn’t too far from being a whore.
i am, i suppose, a competent teacher. But while i sometimes feel like running through McLingua like Nicholas Cage, shouting I Am The Greatest, i rely on the cooperation of my students, like a prostitute. If they don’t respond, i am helpless. In fairness, with non-responsive students even a by-the-books McLingua drone would flop, but i flop harder (the drones always flop, so it’s nothing too dramatic for them).
i am a fairly good whore, i would say. i can generally find whatever my students need to positively respond, and can usually even manage large and diverse groups. But it requires sometimes hideous expenditure of energy and since English teachers are paid – by German standards – the minimum wage – i have to work a great deal more than i can manage, which leaves me feeling evacuated and deathly most evenings.
2. i usually cope by regarding this not so much as a viable means of surviving but as a form of initiatory work, requiring secrecy, self-effacement, concentration, authority, and sensitivity. Concentration is fine and i learnt my own humility through five years of minimum wage temping, but the others are new. Secrecy is the only quality i consciously work at. It is necessary in class, as my form of teaching usually encourages confidences (one student said i was more like a psychiatrist). My natural tendency is to blab everything i think people will find interesting or useful, provided it’s not too personal; and it’s really not natural for me to compartmentalise, but i’ve learnt it’s necessary – not so much because people will be fired because of my related anecdotes, but because patients don’t trust a psychiatrist who casually relates other patients’ tales.
In addition i’ve found it unwise to speak too much in front of my colleagues. Unfortunately, i now spend a lot of time hanging around in the McLingua Arbeitsamt teacher room, due to my scheduling (an unpaid 90-minute gap twice a week), and it’s hard to avoid talking to my colleagues. But unfortunately they are women and hence naturally bitchy and resentful. i’ve realised they often take my casual remarks and store them away. For example, the know-it-all American teacher – who says things like “I could have took the train” and thinks correct grammar is a white man’s ploy to keep the black man down – has started getting in a few odd jibes at me: so i said my students had complained that an ex-military Canadian freak teacher was very strict & intense, and then i cautiously added “but i like him from what i’ve seen of him”, and she said: “Well Elberry you might want to think before you idealise him and say he’s so great. He has issues.” i replied that i just found him amusing; she looked clever and all-knowing and contemptuous. i realised from the faces of the other female teachers that they had all been discussing me and had Come to Conclusions.
i’ve decided to just try to avoid spending any longer in the teacher room than i have to, though this is not easy given the absence of alternative killing-time-spots. Failing that i will try and practice the bland, non-committal, superficial chit-chat of Toddball and the other male teachers – they generally say nothing, very little, or confine themselves to the most harmless remarks about the u-bahns or the weather or beer. The situation at times reminds me of office work, surrounded by vindictive, ignorant females.
3. While this is all very terrible i’m coming to see it as an initiatory ordeal. Secrecy is essential to any real power – because real power is founded in isolation and unworldliness. If i saw this as just another unpleasant work situation i would feel grim and probably murder at least one of my female colleagues (who also bitch at length about each other). As an initiatory ordeal it is more in the way of a sign, showing that one has progressed to a certain point, and now one must go this way.