It was my third day in Vienna and I was beginning to feel like a native. We had eaten Vietnamese food, mis-ordered coffee in a city where that’s a sin on the order of eating sushi in Tokyo with your feet, and failed to see a single major tourist attraction.
The only thing I had left on my list of “must-don’ts” was the Lipizzaner Stallions. I checked this task off before getting out of bed. Of all the things that had made our visit to Vienna a breeze, none had helped as much as a copy of Rick Steves’s “Vienna Salzburg & Tirol” guidebook given to me by a buddy the day we left LA.
You should never go to a major city like Vienna without a great guidebook, and this is a great guidebook. I read through it on the flight, in between trips to the galley to get ice packs on my knee. On the Chicago leg of our flight I had been peacefully snoozing with my knee about 0.5 inches out in the aisle.
The nice lady with the 500-lb. cart had smashed into it during what must have been an attempt at a new world sprint record, because she hit it so hard it shattered my kneecap. Of course I woke with a curse, shouting “Fuck!” at the top of my lungs, which also awoke the entire cabin. The good part about being crippled was that it forced me to stay seated the rest of the trip and read the guidebook.
By the time we reached Vienna I knew everything about the city’s major attractions. What to see, what to avoid, and most crucially, what to lie about having seen. It did say that no trip would be complete without seeing the Lipizzaner Stallions, and for me no trip would be complete without leaving something important incomplete.
But the main benefit to having read about all the things in the city worth seeing was that I now didn’t have to go see any of them and could go about my business of hanging out at Hotel am Billigsten, drinking coffee, and gearing up for The Concert.
We had booked seats at the Musikverein to hear Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields play Beethoven and Mozart, or at least that’s what everyone else had come to hear. I had come to see people play a symphony in a field and was disappointed when it turned out that it was going to be in a concert hall.
Inside it became clear that when I had told my wife, “There’s no dress code,” there was most defnitelly a dress code, and it didn’t appear to include sneakers and jeans spattered with coal tar, a BWR 2013 t-shirt, and a knit beanie. The concert hall was very different from the Disney Hall in LA. This one was tiny, but on the other hand getting to hear Beethoven in Vienna on Boesendorfer Street was kind of like getting to hear Stevie Ray at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, with Little Charlie before he went to Hollywood.
Ms. WM vetted the Musikverein on Google afterwards and it turned out to be the finest acoustics of anywhere in the world, and I supposed that included the Armadillo WHQ. It shockingly appeared that I had purchased economy seats, so we had to climb many sets of stairs to reach the Fremdloge, which in German means “where the performers can collect your money but not have to ever look at you.”
The whole place was gilded in gold paint and directly above me was a painting of a naked woman with a bush badly in need of trimming. Our seats were chairs that had been stolen from someone’s kitchen and jammed into rows. We were so tightly packed in that it was clear the Viennese did not have a fire marshal. The man in front of me, who I’ll call Horst, was wider than the tummy of a Lunada Bay Boy on Mom’s couch, and although I never saw a singe performer for the next two hours I can tell you that Horst has 349 neck hairs growing out his collar.
The conductor, Sir Neville Mariner, is one of the leading conductors on earth, and he made the night special beyond belief by dying the night before. The orchestra dude gave a speech and announced that in honor of Sir Neville they would be playing without a conductor, and although it was a very nice gesture the idea of getting through all three movements of Beethoven’s violin concerto without a conductor made me fear it would be like listening to cats, or to the Stones play without heroin. I mean, we were in Vienna. Weren’t there extra conductors lying around in the gutter somewhere?
My fears were unfounded. The music was beautiful and because we were high up, and hot air rises, and because Horst had slammed down one too many before the show, he finally slumped over on the railing and I was able to watch the violinist, Julia Fischer, as she absolutey killed the third movement. I got ready to do a hog whistle in appreciation but Ms. WM broke my other kneecap with a vicious kick so I didn’t.
The next piece was a long bit by Mozart but it was like having a big bowl of whipped cream topped with cane sugar after having chowed down on a banana split. Plus, Horst’s snores were shaking the upper loge so much I feared the whole flimsy structure might rend in two and plunge us to our death.
Back at Hotel am Billigsten I checked off another bit of Viennese culture: “Heard Beethoven, stayed awake.” I was feeling like a true Renaissance man and couldn’t wait for tomorrow, when I was going to really go see those Lipizzaner Stallions one way or another.