Friday, October 31, 2014

Quote of the Day

A gossip is someone who talks to you about others, a bore is someone who talks to you about himself, an excellent conversationalist is someone who talks to you about you.
- Lisa Kirk

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quote of the Day

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote of the Day

Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Quick update from Vienna

So I went to Vienna last week. From Wednesday to Sunday I painted the town red, along with around 50 colleagues from my high school. We left the pupils to fend for themselves as best they could and if there were fewer of them when we got back, then, hey! Fewer papers to grade!

Wednesday I walked on my own two wobbly, neuropathy-stricken feet from the hotel, which was just north of the new central station, into town, accompanied by about half a dozen others. Just a few blocks from the very center of Vienna, the Stefansplatz, we found a small watering hole which subsequently became my regular haunts.

When I left after appx. four hours, I'd had exactly one sandwich and one large glass of Almdudler, an Austrian soda with a surprisingly good flavor. My colleagues had had six pints of beer and four shots of liquor... each. I believe there was some white wine in there as well.

The next day I got up bright and early and after a hearty breakfast I again walked downtown to attend a guided city walk. I was in the group where the focus was to be on relatively modern Austrian history, but more than half the time was still spent on old stuff. I knew most of what was told to me on an intellectual level, but seeing the places and hearing a native talk about these things, gave the information a whole other dimension.

It's difficult when you're from a tiny, insignificant nation on the edge of Europe to fathom the cosmopolitan nature of Vienna; the history and culture and degree of sophistication (and perhaps a tough of arrogance) of the population and how all this came crashing down around their ears.

First, one of the major powerbrokers of Europe and the personal domain of the ruling Habsburg family, The Holy Roman Empire (which, just to add some confusion, was mainly German) came to an end in 1806, as more and more of Europe wanted independence from the late 1700s on and the Austrians got bitchslapped by Napoleon at Austerlitz.

Its successor, the Austrian Empire (later the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) reasserted itself as a major power until the whole thing came crashing down after the First World War, which began after a Serbian eejit murdered the Empire's crown prince and the even worse eejits, the Russians, had to stick their greedy little noses into other people's affairs with disastrous results (for a recent example, see Putin, Vladimir). Anyways, the borders from that little event still haven't settled and it can be argued that both the 2nd Word War and most of the more recent shit going down in the Balkans can be traced back to the Empire and the way it was dissolved.

Vienna was dirt poor and full of refugees after World War I, and most of the city was bombed to pieces during WW2. The Imperial capital that once was the fifth most populous city in Europe, the place from which large parts of the continent and for a while even South America, was run, was now a mid-sized town in a rather smallish and utterly insignificant country on the edge of civilized Europe. Vast tracts of the old empire lay behind the iron curtain, under the crushing burden of Communism for almost 50 years.

In short, I'm not sure that I'm intellectually and emotionally equipped to understand the mentality and the self-image of the population in a country and a city that went from a contender for the title of capital of Europe, to basically a museum in a generation or two. Hitler, an Austrian by birth, walked the streets of Vienna while trying to make it as painter, and he grew to hate the Habsburgs and the international flavor of the empire and of course the wealth and power he saw on display while he himelf lived the cliche of the starving artist. Nothing good came of that experience.

Still, let me say something about the present state of Vienna. While not (at least to my mind) quite up to the standards of Prague, which is still the most beautiful city in the world (TM), Vienna is very, very beautiful. There are literally tons upon tons of old, momumental buildings, and of monuments to long forgotten wars, battles, kings and generals, and just walking around downtown you definitely get a feel for what it must have been back in the day - and I didn't even get around to seeing some of the most famous castles, such as the Schönbrunn. I've also seldom been to a place of size where I so immediately got a feel for the outlay of the city and how to get from A to B. I can heartily recommend a trip here, and I'm definitely going back to explore further.

The Viennese themselves are a mix of Austrians and people from all over the old Empire. There are lots of people with Czech, Polish or Hungarian background, it still has an important Jewish congregation and in addition they've recently gotten a lot of people from the former Yugoslavia and Arabs too. I still can't quite understand why they've collectively decided that all the grocery shops need to close at 8PM on weekdays and 6:30 on Saturdays, but that's their loss.

It is a fairly relaxed city with very little crime for its size. The Austrians don't believe in public health fascism, so smoking is still allowed in pubs and cafes and stuffing face with cake is a popular pastime there... as is the pan-Germanic tradition of beer guzzling. I'll post more text later, including more pics.

This monumental building is the Staatsoper, the national opera house of Vienna. It was bombed to smithereens during WW2, but quickly rebuilt, as the local population (or at least their benevolent politicians) couldn't go for long without culture.

War monument just behind the opera house.

In the 30s, Jews were made to scrub the streets. Often, onlookers would cheer and throw stuff at them. I never said the Viennese were delightful people.

The headquarters of the Spanish riding school, where the famous Lipizzan horses can be found. I believe the stables are just across the road.

From this relatively modest building, an empire was run.

The residence of the current President of Austria.

This enormous building is the Austrian National Library. Never let it be said they don't appreciate culture down there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

The world is content with setting right the surface of things.
- John Henry Newman

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

I'm a great housekeeper. I get divorced. I keep the house.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular but some degree of persecution.
- Jonathan Swift

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

Murder, like talent, seems occasionally to run in families.
- G. H. Lewes

Friday, October 24, 2014

Quote of the Day

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.
- Saul Bellow

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Quote of the Day

Virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.
- John Dryden

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quote of the Day

Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.
- Unknown

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its one sure defense.
- Mark Twain

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.
- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

I have great faith in fools - self-confidence my friends call it.
- Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

Being convinced one knows the whole story is the surest way to fail.
- Philip Crosby

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.
- Emma Goldman

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way.
- Daniele Vare

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

Nothing is sadder than having worldly standards without worldly means.
- Van Wyck Brooks

Monday, October 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and give her a house.
- Lewis Grizzard

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

It is possible to pay another man's debts on his behalf, but it is not possible to make a guilty man innocent by suffering in his place.
- Carl Lofmark

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Quote of the Day

An amateur thinks it’s really funny if you dress a man up as an old lady, put him in a wheelchair, and give the wheelchair a push that sends it spinning down a slope towards a stone wall. For a pro, it’s got to be a real old lady.
- Groucho Marx

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.
- Aldous Huxley

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quote of the Day

Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example.
- La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quote of the Day

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quote of the Day

I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy.
- Walter Besant

Monday, October 6, 2014

Quote of the Day

Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to ensure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.
- Benjamin Disraeli

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Quote of the Day

A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes.
- James Feibleman

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Quote of the Day

I hate flowers. I only paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move.
- Georgia O'Keefe

Friday, October 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

We experience moments absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic.
- Cullen Hightower

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
- H. M. Warner

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.
- Maya Angelou