Robert Pimm

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Vienna and Istanbul: the best cities on earth?

People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in, apart obviously from Manchester?  Is it London?  Berlin?  Moscow? Istanbul?  Kyiv?  Or Vienna?’

I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’

Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby

I thought of Oscar Wilde when I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index – the first time a European city has ever won.  I certainly can confirm that Vienna is a magnificent place to live, offering everything from terrific cafes (see my cafe reviews) to awesome local countryside, great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s.  I am very happy here.

When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times which made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU, or the widely quoted Mercer quality of living survey (where Vienna also came top in 2018 – for the ninth consecutive year).  The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live – Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists.  Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (more…)

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“Prep”: is this how women think? 7/10

Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in.  Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears.  She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest.  She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years.  At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.

The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep

I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005.  The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast.  Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.

What a crush. (more…)

Trollope vs Black Panther: life lessons

I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul.  On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.

Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages, interrupting the movie.  So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting?  No-one knows).

On the subsequent three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video.  So I still haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”.  Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes?  What do you think?  No spoilers please!

But good news is coming.  On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings.  This is  (more…)

The Simpsons: Trash of the Titans 8/10

My blog The Simpsons – existential, circular fantasy 9/10 argued that that “The Simpsons” was the most sophisticated show on TV.

Do you agree?

Back then I praised Series 25, Episode 20, Brick Like Me, in which I noted the parallels between the episode and the 1955 Frederik Pohl short story The Tunnel Under the World, with its exploration (as in Brick Like Me) of the horrors of unfettered capitalism.

Trash of the Titans is the 22nd episode of the 9th season of the Simpsons, from 1998.  It is the 200th episode overall.  Do the producers make a special effort with round-numbered episodes?  Maybe they do: Brick Like Me was episode 550.

Trash of the Titans looks at what can happen when democracy goes wrong:

(i) an evil corporation, trying to fill a lull in sales of its useless toys, cards and gifts over the summer, invents “Love Day” to boost sales (a naive executive who argues they should accept the lull – “hey, we’re making enough money, right?” is ejected by goons).  Shortly after, the Simpsons are celebrating “Love Day”, despite Lisa pointing out that “the stores just invented this holiday to make (more…)

When kissing in cafes is forbidden

My famous Vienna Cafe Reviews note the alleged “no kissing” rule in the Cafe Malipop; and promise a story from 1986.

Here it is.  It concerns the Gmoa Keller, right here in Vienna.

Back in 1986 I looked something like this

In the 1980s, the Gmoa Keller was a tenebrous place, damp with history and rich with atmosphere.  It was run by two elderly sisters from the Burgenland, Grete Novak and Hedi Vécsei.   Grete had been in charge since taking over from her uncle, Andreas Herzog, in the ’60s.  He in turn had run the place since 1936.

Late one night, my girlfriend Nicky and I took refuge there from a bitterly cold, wet evening.  We ordered beers.  We were the only guests.

The beer, and the safe haven of the Gmoakeller, warmed us up.  A hint of kissing arose.  Nothing ostentatious: a nuzzle, perhaps, a cheek to a neck.

Grete shuffled across to where we were sitting.  She leaned down to my ear almost as though she were about to kiss me herself. (more…)

The Laughing Halibut

‘One of my favourite restaurants in London is the Laughing Halibut,’ I say as we eat our lunch in Vienna.  ‘When I first started eating there in 1979, it was run by this Italian guy, and one of his sons used to work there, a young bloke.  Now, the son is still there, he seems to run the place, but he has become a much older man.’

’40 years is a long time, I guess,’ my friend says.  ‘The Italian has aged.  But you have stayed the same.’

‘Correct!  It’s like that Joe Walsh song, Life’s been good to me so far.  Great lyrics.  It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame, he sings.  Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed.  Best fish and chips in central London.’

A delicious portion of chips from the Laughing Halibut – RP

I often think of the Laughing Halibut, and would recommend it to anyone visiting or living in London.  In fact, I like it so much that it features in a key scene in a novel of mine, which is on ice at present but might see the light of day in a couple of years.  The scene also features a phlegmatic Italian waiter.

The scene (which I have lightly edited, for reasons too complex to explain here) is as follows.  Angus Fairfax, the protagonist of the book, is meeting his wife Rosie for lunch.

Excerpt from an unpublished novel

Rosie and I had instituted regular Monday lunches when she was promoted – again – twelve months before.  ‘You must be in the diary,’ she’d said.  ‘Otherwise, I’ll never see you.’

She’d been right.  These days, most of our conversations seemed to take place in the Laughing Halibut in Strutton Ground.

Strutton Ground was a curious street.  (more…)

Austria unfriendly? I don’t think so

I was bemused recently to see a news report headed: Austria ranked by expats as one of unfriendliest countries.

I have lived in Austria for years and have numerous friends.  Who are these expats who say Austrians are unfriendly?  And who is doing the measuring?  I decided to investigate.

It turns out that the report is based on the “Expat Insider 2017” survey carried out by the “InterNations” network.

Austria has a lot to offer – as well as friendly people – Photo RP

“Internations” is a company which works to help expats settle in and get to know other expats (slogan: “Wherever in the world life takes you, our InterNations Communities help you feel at home”).

Its full report, which you can download in full from the link above, is packed with interesting statistics.   (more…)

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