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Middlemarch is the book for #Coronavirus: 25 epigrams

What to do, when you are stuck at home because of the #coronavirus outbreak?

Read Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880

I read Middlemarch recently and posted on its wisdom about sex and relationships (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Middlemarch is also full of splendid epigrams.  Here are 25 beauties which caught my eye: (more…)

Great Vienna bars: Aurora at Andaz Belvedere

Which rooftop bar in Vienna has:

  • outstanding cocktails
  • the best view in Vienna
  • total coolness?

Here’s a clue:

Here are some reasons I like the Aurora rooftop bar at Hyatt’s fancy new Andaz Vienna am Belvedere:

  • I am picky about cocktails.  The Aurora has a terrific Nordic-themed cocktail menu.  My favourite is the “Berserker’s Punch” (white rum, overproof rum, orange, coconut, pineapple, lemon, milk, and a cola lolly).  To be honest, I can’t see or taste any milk in it.  I advise against drinking too many of these;

(more…)

The Americans

How a convicted murderer (“‘Killed a man with a pool cue.  Judge said it wasn’t premeditated…  Just kinda happened”) introduced me to his girlfriend – who despised him.  What I thought about love and sex as a student.  The lawyer who took me back to his office in Brooklyn.  Running out of gas in a Ford Pinto on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Soviet statues in Washington DC.  Being charmed by Mexican con artists on the Redwood Highway in Northern California.

Welcome to “The Americans”.  Who are they?  What can they teach us in the 21st Century?

On this page, all five previously-published episodes of “The Americans” are brought together.  This is a work in progress.

Prologue

The first thing I saw were his big butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat.  Next, I saw tattoos and a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile.  A broken six-pack of Schlitz was wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.

Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous.  What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.

Heading west on I-40, 1979  

Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up?  Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the cooling evening, I had the usual split second to decide.  I weighed contradictory feelings: fear and an urge to keep moving.

‘Where are you heading?’ I asked. (more…)

Middlemarch: 26 quotes on gender and relationships

I am listening to literary folk on the Queen Mary Literary Festival at Sea (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).  After a powerful Martini in the Commodore Club, a well-read literary editor admits he has never read George Eliot’s classic 1872 novel Middlemarch.  

This depiction of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw does not make “Middlemarch” look a fun, contemporary read

Like some other 19thC fiction, Middlemarch has provoked negative responses or indifference over the years – yet critics now see it as one of the greatest novels in the English language.

I agree, and I don’t.  Middlemarch is a daunting read – over 900 pages in most editions.  Not much happens; there is an immense cast-list of characters; and some of the issues with which it deals, such as the 1832 Reform Act, have faded from memory.

Yet the wisdom (more…)

Vienna’s best cafés: the ultimate guide

Vienna is full of cafes.  But which are best?

The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Robert Pimm

Many Viennese cafes are rather good.  I like the fact that most of them use old-fashioned Viennese coffee types (kleine Schwarzer, kleine Brauner, Verlängerter, Franziskaner) instead of, or sometimes in addition to, the world-conquering Italian descriptors (Cappuccino, Macchiato, Latte & Co).

Some Vienna cafes have a wonderful, unrenovated charm, often accompanied by service which varies from the friendly and efficient to the traditional clockwork stop-motion effect where waiters emphasise by their every action the fact that they will not deviate from their intended, inexorable plan of action under any circumstance.

But then, what do you want?  Would you rather, in Vienna, have a traditional-looking Austrian waiter, who maybe doesn’t speak English and isn’t conspicuously polite, or a fast-moving identikit youth who could be in Seattle or Siena?

I even mention the service of Viennese waiters in my novel Biotime.

Viennese cafes also often serve terrific cakes; and other food and drink, from sausages to breakfast and beer.  Check the menu; and choose your cakes at the counter if you’re not sure.

All of the cafes reviewed are ones I would to return to.  If a cafe does not appear in the list, that means either that I haven’t tried it yet; or that I have tried it and am not desperate to return.

Reviews

Cafe Bräunerhof (Stallburggasse 2, 1st District).  Nestling in a back street near the tourist (more…)

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels: read them

They come now, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed.

Does evil exist independently?  Or does it arise purely from human beings?  To read this quotation from John Connolly’s third Charlie “Bird” Parker novel, The Killing Kind, one might think Connolly believed in a malice independent of man.

At the Erich Fried literary festival

I had the privilege of interviewing John Connolly at the Erich Fried literary festival in Vienna last month.  A writer of prodigious output, his recent works include hea literary imagining of the comedian Stan Laurel, and A Book of Bones, the 17th in the Charlie Parker series.

In preparation for interviewing John I read the first three of the series: Every Dead Thing, Dark Hollow and The Killing Kind.  I found Charlie Parker a fine creation: disturbed, vengeful, tough, (more…)

Vienna unfriendly? San Francisco a hell-hole?

Respectable Austrian news service APA has published a report saying, and I quote, “according to employees sent abroad by companies, Vienna is the third-most unfriendly city in the world”.

Could this really be true?  How did they work it out?

I looked at the statistics more closely.  It turned out that the report was based on a survey of expats carried out by the “InterNations” network.  You may have heard of them before: two years ago I examined their “Expat Insider 2017” survey, which also rated Austria as one of unfriendliest countries (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Many Viennese are friendly – here at Zum Schwarzen Kameel

Let’s look at a few more statistics from the 2019 report:

  • the InterNations survey rates Milan and Rome as the second- and third-worst cities on earth for expats – behind Lagos, Jakarta or Moscow.  In fact, of the 82 cities measured, Rome comes 81st, Milan 80th.  Just ahead are Paris (78th) and the awful city of San Francisco, ranked 77th.
  • in fact, US cities score terribly in the survey: New York, LA and San Francisco rank 74th, 76th and 77th of the 82 cities rated worldwide.   This seems hard to square with the fact that the United States is a magnet for immigration from around the world.
  • the survey rates Taipei and Kuala Lumpur as the best and second-best cities on earth for expats, narrowly ahead of Ho Chi Min City – the third best city on earth for expats, apparently, and way better than the best US city (Miami, ranked 27th).
  • InterNations members score Vienna as the 23rd best city on earth for expats, just behind Luxemburg City and Manama (in Bahrain).  Vienna comes in fifth out of 82 on the “quality of urban living” index, dragged down by an odd 31st place in the “safety and politics” measure (crime rates suggest Vienna is one of the safest cities on earth).  Under “getting settled”, Vienna scores a poor 68th place, dragged down by coming 80th out of 82 on “local friendliness“.   Hence the headlines.
  • the figures jump around: Vienna came 8th overall in the InterNations survey in 2016; 28th in 2017; 34th in 2018 (must have been a bad year); before soaring to 23rd in 2019.

(more…)

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