Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Vienna. I'm here on the first leg of a short three-city tour for my new novel - Eine Grosse Zeit in German. The weather is sensational, warm and sunny, and even though we're still firmly in March and there isn't a leaf on a tree, Vienna's cafes have their tables out on the sidewalk wherever possible.

I'm staying in the incomparable Hotel Sacher - which probably serves the best breakfast on the planet and they cook your scrambled eggs in front of you while you wait. After a couple of interviews I have something of a gap in my schedule and decide to walk to my next appointment with a TV programme which is being filmed in the Sigmund Freud Museum, formerly Freud's apartment and consulting rooms at no. 19, Bergasse. I saunter along beside the wide boulevard of the Ring and pause at a kiosk by a tram stop opposite the Kunsthistorische Museum for a midday beer. As I stand there sipping my cold beer, feeling increasingly mellow, a van pulls up at the traffic lights. On the side is written 'KAFKA: Sanit£r und Heizungstechnic'.

I suppose it's just feasible that you might see a van in London with 'SHAKESPEARE: Sanitary and Heating Engineer' printed on the side, but in this city it does give you something of a jolt.

The Freud museum is full of photographs of Freud. In most of them he is holding a small stubby cigar.

Freud was an inveterate cigar-smoker, so much so that he developed a cancer in his mouth and had most of the roof of his mouth removed, obliging him to wear a crude and uncomfortable plastic orthotic palate for the rest of his life in order to be able to speak, eat and drink. It didn't stop him smoking, however: he kept puffing away until he died. I find this fact perversely admirable about the man - very Viennese, somehow.

Munich. Still blazing sunshine. I have a day off and go to see a production of Eugene Onegin at the opera house.

It's set in America in the late 1960s and is clearly inspired by the film Brokeback Mountain, emphasising the powerful homoerotic subtext that exists between Onegin and Lensky. It's an astonishingly effective production - so much so I wonder if I'll ever be able to see a conventional Onegin again: it'll seem bland, somehow - so wrong. Afterwards, I go to the Schumann Bar on Odeonsplatz - one of the supreme bars of the world where, an unforeseen bonus, I'm served by the great man himself, Charles Schumann. …

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