Monday, 11 November 2019

I Love London

I returned to London last week, just for a few days. It felt like coming home, walking the familiar streets, seeing friends, and eating delicacies that are hard to find in Spain, like spicy Indian food or very soft chocolate chip cookies. I love listening to friends speaking numerous languages on the tube and watching the stylish people rush around the city. On Thursday night, my friend Sarah took me to a Halloween-themed magazine launch party in a members club. The host handed us red cocktails in mock blood-transfusion bags with a long straw, before introducing us to a flirtatious couple. Afterwards we went to Ridley Road for a dance in a bar with wood-paneled walls. I think a Klaxon was playing disco records that night.

Stephanie, a vegan chef, shows me her chains in Dalston

We cruised by a few more pubs before ending up at my favourite one, The Gun, in Hackney. As soon as we arrived, a petite blond in a zip-up patent leather moto suit smiled, and put her arms around me. She complimented my long blue 70s dress and the yellow flowers in my hair. I told her she reminded me of Marianne Faithfull in 'The Girl on a Motorcycle'. I ordered a Paloma and the bartender recognized me from ten years ago, when we used to go to the same parties. I bumped into a friend who invited us to an Italodisco warehouse party in Hackney Wick. A tall, slim, androgynous girl with short dark hair caught my eye. She wore a sheer black blouse, a minimal black bra, a scrap of black underwear...and fringed ass-less chaps. Her boyish looks and clean face added a casual touch to the outfit. It felt like Prince was in the room. She was enchanting. She was from Georgia. We all danced and mingled until the bar closed.

The Dove pub

The rest of my days in London were filled with museum exhibitions and fascinating conversations with beloved friends. I reunited with a friend who had been living in jungles in Thailand and Peru for years. We met as teenagers at a rave in Vauxhall, lived together (she kindly let me stay on her sofa when I first moved to London), worked together (she opened a burlesque supper club and asked me to DJ there), met up on an island in Thailand six years ago...and rode a moped on rocky roads, while a bird flew through my hair, almost causing us to fly off a cliff. I told her to write a book about all the things she learned in the jungle. We drank tea, ate cookies, and told sexy stories.

Homemade cookies by the multi-talented Andreas

Another afternoon I went to the V&A Museum to revisit the excellent Mary Quant show and have tea with my friend Toby. (Quant probably invented the modern miniskirt, thus she is my hero.) I met Toby at a Turkish pool hall in Dalston back when Mark Ronson drank there, surrounded by girls dancing until their shoes broke. (I was one of those girls... I lifted up my friend Karen in an attempt to replicate the final scene in 'Dirty Dancing' and though she is light, on the way down one heel broke off.) The pool hall days are over. Now we meet in art museums. He told me about contextualizing my art with theory, and recommended analysing what I love and hate to arrive at a deeper meaning when creating artworks...

The Ed Ruscha rooms at the Tate Modern

Below is a list of my favourite spots in London, and I'll post some pictures tonight on Instagram @thefortunyverse


Indian food: Dishoom in Shoreditch (they have a mocktail that tastes like snow, it's amazing.)
Tayaabs: a popular, inexpensive, chaotic, classic place behind the mosque in Whitechapel. Order the Saag Aloo and the Peshwari naan. Both places have long lines so try to go off-peak or early.

Sweets: Gelupo has dreamy gelato and the best hot chocolate outside of Torino. Get a small gianduja hot chocolate with whipped cream and go back for the ice cream another day so you don't have a diabetic arrest.
Hummingbird Bakery has the best cupcakes. I like Black Bottom or the gingerbread one.
Ben's Cookies. There are numerous branches. These cookies are great to bring to friends. They're soft, chewy, and very chocolately.

Brunch/ Hangover Food: Stone Cave in Dalston has a wonderful shakshuka (eggs poached in a delicious tomato stew, spiced with paprika, nutmeg, and chili peppers.)
The Diner (Dalston, Shoreditch, Soho) has In &Out-style 'hangar fries', a great vegan breakfast burger and thick milkshakes, with or without booze.


Usually the Barbican and the V & A have the most unforgettable exhibitions, though you should also see what's on at the Hayward Gallery, the Photographers Gallery in Soho, the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain. If you're going to London soon, check out the Blake show at the Tate Britain and the Lisa Bruce exhibition. Skip the Olafur E at the Tate Modern. (He's usually fantastic but this show is claustrophobic and jammed with people taking selfies. Go upstairs to the free Ed Ruscha rooms instead.) The Tate Modern gift shop is very good too. Peckham has lots of cool little galleries. Sprueth Magers is usually fun and has hip openings.


Portobello Road: On Friday morning there is a large vintage clothes and antiques market. There's usually nowhere to change so wear a leotard or tights. Next to the vintage stalls, Ladbroke Grove side, there's a little store called What Katie Did that sells a variety of seamed stockings and 50s-style lingerie. I found a beautiful 1970s Biba-style jacket for 40 pounds (after bargaining) and a blue leather Prada belt for 10 pounds. The Biba dresses were 380 pounds, so I only glanced at them longingly.

Broadway Market on Saturday, around lunchtime/ early afternoon. There are 2 excellent art bookstores here and in the market itself, there's a cool French girl who sells wool kilts and retro pieces. Borough Olives sells tasty pestos, harissa, and delicious green olives. This is a fun market for people-watching, pesto sampling, and it's not crowded or touristy like Borough Market. The Dove pub, on the same street,  has a large variety of international beers as well as board games.

Liberty London: A cool but classic, expensive store in a Tudor-style building, made partially of old ships. Upstairs, there are bolts of the famous Liberty-print fabrics. The perfume and stationary sections are interesting too. Amongst the notebooks and pastel pens, they sell gift wrap that looks like old maps.

Paks: They sell all kinds of cheap but intriguing make up in hard-to-find colours, as well as wigs and beauty products. There's one on Ridley Road in Dalston.

The High Street: Holland & Barrett has every kind of vitamin you can imagine, usually on sale, as well as honey soap and health-food store snacks and beauty products. Topshop in Oxford Circus - yes, it's intense, but they still have fun clothes. Right now the Fiorucci x Adidas collection is worth checking out. Boots has all kinds of make up, bandaids, and general pharmacy items. I like the Avène moisturizer and the Kalms One-a-night natural chill pills.

The Girl on a Motorcycle

Monday, 4 June 2018

Barcelona: Where to Eat & Frolic

Flash Flash
I took the train to Barcelona recently. I lived there for a year and a half but this was the best time I had in the crowded seaside city. There were so many great moments...a spontaneous trip to the beach with an enchanting Catalan girl and a beautiful Argentinean, who promptly removed all her clothes as soon as we sat by the water. We swam in the sea and then lounged in our underwear, feeling the sand on our legs and the sun warming our skin. 

Then we visited my friend the artist Monstruo Espagueti. She gave me a portrait she had drawn of me and I brought her guacamole atop homemade tortilla chips with a slice of lime.

That night my friend Vir, a pixie from Buenos Aires, and I visited a friend who was djing at Olgod, a bar that served Beertails. Hold on, they were surprisingly delicious! A beer mojito is just right when your liver is screaming at you for staying out until dawn at Primavera Sound the night before. We walked a few minutes until we came to a small club where an English friend was djing Italodisco. We danced and talked to a fascinating Tango guitarist. Between the loud music and his accent, everything he said sounded like leaves rustling in the wind but somehow I understood what he meant.

The rest of the weekend I poked around record stores, ate vegan schwarma, wandered around the Gothic quarter in the moonlight, and saw as many friends as possible.

In hopes that you'll have an equally exciting time, here's my guide to Barcelona:

The Design Museum

1. Casa Lolea, in El Borne. A delicious tapas restaurant. Order the melty truffle risotto, the light patatas bravas, and the crispy pan de crystal. Actually, everything here is fantastic. Make a reservation.

2. Bormuth, in El Borne. Another great, and cheap, tapas restaurant, for carnivores and vegetarians. The potatoes "mojo picon" are unforgettable and the fried aubergine with honey is also tasty. To try a Catalan specialty, order the spinach with pine nuts. Try the vermut too - ask for "el siphon" if it's too intense.

3. El Vaso de Oro, in Barceloneta. This is an old school authentic bar with a few tables and sassy waiters. Order fried artichokes and fuet (Catalan sausage) and pâté. There aren't many veggie options. This bar is best for a snack or beers.

4. Sesamo, in Sant Antoni. This is a low-key vegetarian tapas restaurant that's only open for dinner. Try the roast cauliflower dish, the gnocchi with beet and cheese sauce, and the gazpacho. Only open after 7 pm.

5. Sensi Tapas Mezzanine, in Gothic quarter. Open late, good for big groups. Order the truffle ravioli, and the zucchini and goat cheese tempura. They also have a tiny paella if you just want a few bites of the famous dish.

6. Flash Flash, in Eixample/ Gracia. A groovy tortilla restaurant with excellent croquettes. It's the most lively at lunchtime.

7. Can Mano, Jaica, and Bitacora, all close by in Barceloneta. The first two are classic, inexpensive tapas places specializing in seafood and meat dishes. Bitacora is a little neighborhood restaurant that has amazing patatas bravas and a few vegetarian options. Bar Fanny, on the corner, has the same kitchen as Bitacora.

8. Pizza Circus, in Raval. Take-out, cheap and fantastic New York-style pizza by the slice. The one on Nou de la Rambla street is the best.  Another quick, cheap dinner option: Muns empanadas, in Raval and Poblenou. The best empanadas in town.

9. Hummus Barcelona, in Eixample. Try the energizing vegan schwarma with creamy hummus and a hard-boiled egg, especially if you're low on sleep. The best time to go is weekdays for the menu del dia. 


10. Caravelle, in Raval. They have the best Eggs Benedict and great coffee. Get there early or there's a long line.

11. Federal, a brunch spot in the Gothic quarter. There's one in Sant Antoni too but the one in Gothic is less crowded. They have a hangover-curing dish called shakshuka, which is delicious.

12. Satan's Coffee Corner, in the Gothic quarter. Excellent coffee, healthy breakfasts.

SWEETS: Gelaaati in Gothic has the most original ice cream, Rocambolesc in Raval has the best soft ice cream with creative toppings like cotton candy, and La Colmena in Gothic has the tastiest meringues. Make sure to get the tall ones in foil. I like chocolate or lemon.

A bar in Poble Sec

1. Bar Olimpic, in Raval. This whole street (Joaquin Costa) is filled with bars. Olimpic is small and charming with cheap cocktails.

2. Foxy, in Raval/ Sant Antoni. Fun atmosphere, reasonable cocktails and fresh piña coladas.

3. Bar Marsella, in Raval. Hemingway used to drink at this absinth joint. It's kind of touristy now but still attracts interesting people and you might run into someone you know here. I usually do.

4. Madame Jasmine, in Raval. A hip gay/ mixed bar with outdoor seating.

5. Ølgod , in Raval, craft beer bar with beertails. Brooklyn vibes.

There are lots of bars in Raval, Sant Antoni, Bogatell, and if you want a mellower scene, there's Gracia and Poble Sec. There are plenty of clubs too. The most decadent/ art + disco night is Glove Party.


See Gaudi's fantastical architecture. To visit Gaudi's masterpiece the Sagrada Familia you have to book online in advance. Only go to Park Guell on a sunny day to enjoy the full view. Casa Battlo and La Pedrera are two semi-psychedelic residences located in Eixample. If you're short on time or money just visit the Palau Guell in Raval.

Swim in the Mediterranean. The best beaches are outside the city so hop on a train at Sants or at Arc de Triomf train station (not metro) and get off at Montgat (R1 to Matadero), or if you have more time take the R1 (direction: Blanes) to Sant Pol de Mar, which is 96 minutes away.

Shopping: Pepa Paper has good-looking notebooks (Consell de Cent, 276. Eixample). Regia has fantastic perfumes and colognes (Passeig de Gracia, 39. Eixample) and Farmacia del Palau has less expensive perfumes (Ramblas, 118). Get handmade espadrilles at La Manual Alpargatera (Calle d'Avinyo, 7. Gothic). Buy wine and Espolon tequila (it's not Spanish but it's hard to find in Europe and will enhance your trip) at Vins i licors Vilanova (Placa del Pedro, 7. Raval). Get gifts at Fantastik (Carrer de Joaquin Costa, 62.) La Central has a vast selection of books.
If you like people watching and collecting things check out Palo Alto market (mostly gigs and food) or Lost & Found market (vintage stuff and records).

Art Museums: The CCCB, the Design Museum and Macba are the best.

ADVICE - Barcelona is one of the pickpocket capitals of the world; always keep your hand on your pocket or bag. Leave your passport and valuables where you're staying- just keep a photo of the picture page on your phone. Always keep your iphone out of sight as much as possible; don't leave it on the table at a cafe or talk on it for long late at night. Also, at bars and restaurants keep your bag in your lap not under the table or on a chair. Avoid the smaller streets of Raval after midnight if you're by yourself. Culturally - be aware that locals generally consider themselves part of Cataluña, not part of Spain. This is a hot political issue. If you learn some basic words in Catalan people will appreciate it. Diverteix-te!


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

9 Nights in Madrid

Source: La Bobia Laberinto de Pasiones.

On my first night I raced through the city at sunset on a motorbike as the wind lifted the hem of my dress above my bare knees... A few days later, an enchanting Colombian girl took me to an ancient tapas bar with no chairs and the best tortilla in Madrid. Then there was the time my friend Martina, a willowy Austrian with Marc Bolan curls, invited me to watch the cult Super 8 film 'Arrebato' at the Filmoteca, followed by vermouth at a bar where they only played vinyl and everyone had long shiny hair. One evening I strolled through Retiro Park, queasy, yet enjoying the dusk cloaking the trees in shadows. 

A still from 'Arrebato', 1979.
Every night was different, and many were calm (noodles, movies on the sofa) so I'll just tell you about my last night. On Saturday, I put on a long striped dress and met my friend Guillermo at the metro, along with an exciting Mexican girl named Mayra. First we went to a classic nightclub that reminded me of some cruise ship disco from the 80s (not that I've been on any cruise ships or to discos in the 80s - but one can imagine - a James Bond set where Grace Jones appears - in a velvet catsuit, right?)

Grace Jones in Vogue

My friend Will invited us there to see his band play. The audience was loving Flat Worms, dancing, drumming their fingers on lanky thighs, and murmuring excitedly, even though it was only seven o'clock, which is practically the middle of the afternoon in Spain. After the gig we walked to a quiet bar called Picnic, where they serve cheap beers and frozen piña coladas. 

madrileño, source unknown.
Next we fortified ourselves at Aio, a delicious Italian restaurant. My other friend named Guillermo, a fascinating young professor, was waiting for us with a round of Aperol Spritzes. Mayra's tales of wildness had everyone laughing. Everyone was getting along swimmingly. Soon we were calling the guys 'Los Tres Guillermos'.

After the feast of pasta and tiramisu, we stepped into a bar with faded rock posters and old covers of Melody Maker collaged onto the walls and ceilings. Girls were drawing on boys' arms; boys were looking at girls, while others played pool in the corner. I chanced upon an empty barstool and began the tower of coats with my sky-blue raincoat. Mayra and I danced to the 70s rock & roll and soon everyone joined us.

After it got too crowded, we ambled through a parade of debauchery in Malasaña, to a nightclub called Trashcan. We checked out the mostly Mod and psych crowd and found a spot near the dj. He was picking out the best 45s. Every song was fantastic. He put on the Buzzcock's single 'Ever Fallen in Love...' Everybody danced and sang along and swerved into each other with that elation that appears sometime between midnight and dawn. We met new friends, danced and hollered, and continued on our disco safari.

I found some pretty girls on the way to the next little club and invited them to join us. The brisk walk was enormously refreshing. We were ready for more dancing and excitement. Much frolicking later, it was the hour to part. To hunt for taxicabs that would deliver us to different corners of the city. We sauntered into the night, half-dreaming of sleep and tall glasses of water.



-Check out obscure films at Matadero or the beautiful Cine Doré. Tickets cost 3 euros.
-Madrid has some of the best art museums in the world. Modern art fans should check out the Reina Sofia Museum. It's massive and maze-like so bring a snack or have lunch and a coffee first. If you like traditional art (e.g. Velasquez and Goya) visit the Prado. The Fundación Canal usually has interesting shows and it's free. The hip contemporary art galleries are on Calle Doctor Fourquet in Lavapies.
-On Sundays, wander around El Rastro flea market for knickknacks, comic books and sexy magazines from the 70s. It ends around 2 or 3 pm.

-Pop into the bookshops and vintage stores in Malasaña (that's vaguely the Dalston/ Echo Park/ Bushwick of Madrid.)
Madrid in the 80s, source unknown.
THE BEST FOOD (All these are carnivore and vegetarian friendly.)

-My favorite restaurant is 80 Grados. Amazing menu del dia (4 dishes & a drink at lunchtime for 12.50). Try the salmorejo with parmesan ice cream, the truffled egg, and the crazy tiramisu. Make a reservation. c/Manuela Malasaña, 10. 914-458-351.
-Bodega de la Ardosa. Casual tapas bar from 1892. Try the croquetas. Veggies can also ask for a salad or salmorejo minus the jamon. Calle de Colón, 13.
-Chan Street. Chinese street food in Chueca/ Gran Via. (Though the menu appears to be non-vegetarian, veggies can ask which noodle dishes can be made with tofu instead of meat.) Try the saucy onion and garlic noodles, and green beans. Calle de Barbieri, 4.
-Casa Lafu. Elegant Sichuan Chinese restaurant. Calle Flor Baja, 1.
-Grosso Napolitano. Delicious pizza. There's one in Lavapies and one in Malasaña.
-Takos al Pastor. Fantastic, cheap tacos. There is always a long line so get there when it opens.
-Pez Tortilla. Cheap, delicious tortilla with unusual ingredients, as well as tasty croquettes.
-Fit Food. Filling salads and cold-pressed juices when you need to detox, or if you're in some kind of California mood. Not all have the fresh salads (there are 4) but this one does: Calle Génova 25. I suggest the avocado, edamame, tofu, mozzarella, egg, and quinoa salad with pesto dressing. They have lunch deals too for 10.


-Bar Benteveo. Low-key, 70s vibes. Near Lavapies. c/Santa Isabel, 15.
-Toni 2. Classic bar where everyone, young and old, stands around a grand piano and sings Spanish songs. Calle del Almte., 9.
-Picnic. Quiet cafe and bar with tea, beer, and cocktails. Calle Minas, 1. Good for chatting.
-Pavon. Fun, mixed cafe/ bar near Tirso de Molina.
-José Alfredo. Cocktail bar. A little pricey. Calle de Silva, 22.
-Or just walk around Lavapies and Malasaña and see what you find!

A bar in Malasaña, October 2017.


-Trashcan Music Club (check for 60s nights, it's either hit or miss, as is Fun House), La Vía Láctea (rock/indie scene, better on weekdays), Lucky Dragon, Ballesta (if Seven Mad are DJing), Apartament, Sirocco (updated November 2019)
-Feel free to add more in the comments - I haven't covered the electro scene here...

Monday, 9 October 2017

An Afternoon at Dali's House!

Last night my father appeared again. We haven't seen each other since we wandered around the neon alleys of Athens. I suggest we go to Cadaqués to visit the house of Salvador Dali.

The next morning we dress in sky blue to get into a surrealist mood. I wear a mini-dress from the 60s with shiny black shoes. My father wears a cotton button-down shirt with blue trousers and suede brogues. On the train in Barcelona, we nibble a picnic of focaccia, carrots, and tea. Two trains and a car-ride later we arrive in the seaside town where Dali lived with his wife Gala.

Dali's house consists of several fisherman dwellings combined together, overlooking the Mediterranean. As expected, it's decorated with imaginative touches: local swans preserved for eternity and suspended from the ceiling, a large glass snail clock, the head of a rhinoceros flanked by wings above a matching stone table with white benches, fake books used to disguise a radiator...

Dali's garden is equally intriguing. Several gigantic eggs decorate the landscape. Next to a long swimming pool there is a bright pink vinyl sofa in the shape of lips, where visitors gleefully pose.

We amble down a hill into town in search of food. Most of the restaurants are closed at this hour. Just when crabbiness is closing in I spot one of my favorite words: GALETTES. We sit at a small table facing the sea. My father orders a beer and tuna cooked in vermouth served in a tin with the letters MF on the front. I enjoy a massive crepe filled with the fluffiest cheese soufflé in the world. The texture is light and psychedelic. It's like biting into sea foam, except the flavor is creamy not salty.
Across the road, a tall woman leads a horse to a wooden bench. She hops on the bench, jumps on the horse and rides away.

After lunch we walk to the shore. Summer has gone but the sun is strong today. I undress and swim in the chilly water, among long silver fish.

We catch a bus through the countryside. As the sun paints the sky rose we pass a small city set on numerous canals. Every house has a boat out front. I imagine on a map the city is shaped like an octopus, each tentacle representing a canal. My father tells me stories about my grandfather, how he was a great dancer, and my grandmother, who met him on a dancefloor in San Francisco. We talk all the way back to Figueres.

Here I am in Figueres


-FOOD: Guer Bakery has delicious little cakes to take on the train. Try the rum cake and the Sacher Torte. For lunch/ dinner enjoy the crepes and tapas at Versatil on Plaça del Passeig, 3.

-Plan your trip several days in advance. You can only get into Dali's house by making a reservation at least 2-3 days before. If for some reason you just turn up, if you're extremely persuasive you can get on the waiting list for that day.

-How to get there: Ideally go by car. Or: from Barcelona you can take a fast train or a cheaper slow train to Figueres. Then you can catch a bus to Cadaqués, which takes 1-2 hours. The bus only goes a few times a day and is often late. Or you can take a taxi in Figueres for 40-60 euros. From the town of Cadaqués it's about a 15 minute walk up a hill to Dali's House. The Dali Museum is in Figueres so if you have time, you might prefer that to Dali's house. Or stay overnight and see both.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Vienna, The Charmer

Chocolates from Demel

Two hours of sleep, dry sandwiches in the morning, and then we were flying over Swiss mountains. The plane cruised over a sea of clouds lapping at the bottom of the bluish peaks. We changed planes in Zurich and landed in Vienna.

A few hours later, after devouring hot wiener schnitzels with lemon basil sauce at an excellent vegan diner, we stepped into The Purple Cave. It was a small, slightly expensive vintage shop packed to the rafters with 60’s hotpants, 70’s dresses, patterned shirts and collectables including a white mini trench-coat and a leatherette catsuit with cutouts down both sides. I tried on an Ossie Clark-style navy wool dress. My company (El Lobo and Viri the pretty Hungarian) lounged in the tiny bar in the back of the store, surrounded by art books and torn sexy cinema posters. They sipped cold beers and listened to records. I bought the dress.
The Purple Cave

That afternoon we wandered around Vienna’s elegant streets past dapper old couples and horse-drawn carriages. A white-haired gentleman in a plaid three-piece suit put his camel-colored coat around his sweetheart’s shoulders. An Austrian Aphrodite with wavy red hair scurried to the metro in a long coat and stiletto heels. A young man with an angular face and sad eyes clutched a bunch of flowers on the tram. He looked just like an Egon Schiele painting. A car discreetly nearly ran us over…but everything was so calm and quiet we forgot about it moments later.

After investigating the whereabouts of the best Sacher Torte in Vienna, we visited Oberlaa Café. No queues, no obscene prices, just a café filled with locals and a glass case of sweet concoctions. We ate omelettes dusted with chives and oozing with melted cheese. And dessert? Behold the famous chocolate Sacher Torte and a Himbeer-Schaum Schnitte. The second treat was made of a layer of moist sponge cake, cream, tart juicy raspberries, and a thick layer of gooey meringue on top.  I also recommend the Austrian version of a Monte Bianco, a moist chestnut torte. It’s the perfect fuel for a museum marathon.

Industrial Vienna, very different from the rest of the city

 Another day, another thrill for the sartorially inclined: the dirndl outlet, right in the center of town. Imagine a forest of old-fashioned cotton dresses in every color. Viri and I parked the fellas at 1516, the nearby pub, while we tried on pale blue dirndls with cherry red aprons and crisp white blouses. I felt like Liesl in The Sound of Music, running to the gazebo.

We drifted in the frosty sunshine to a crowded restaurant, where El Lobo and I had a dramatic quarrel, the kind where you unearth shards of past arguments and present them with minor disappointments of the day. Tears on eyelashes.  Silence. He smoked a cigarette. I nibbled on a lemon wafer. Apologies. We walked in the fading sun looking forward to ice cream cones and the peace of sleep.

(with help from the beautiful Martina)
-Visit the museums. There’s a great Egon Schiele exhibit on at the Albertina (until June 18, 2017) but if you miss it the Leopold has a collection of Schiele and Klimt paintings. The upper Belvedere has a surprisingly boring collection, with the exception of Klimt’s ‘The Kiss.’ Skip it if you’re short on time. Vienna’s natural history museum is excellent.
-Take an Art Nouveau tour.
-Hunt for vintage clothes and stop for a beer at The Purple Cave. (Neubaugasse 78.)
-Buy spices, little gifts, and Middle Eastern snacks at the Naschmarkt (market) on Saturday.
-Visit old-fashioned, smoky coffeehouses like Café Bendl (Landesgerichstrasse 6, open late some days.)
-If it’s sunny and warm hang out in the bars by the canal.
-If you like traditional dress buy a dirndl. They’re pretty and usually very expensive…unless you go to an outlet like Original Salzburger Trachen, on Weinburggasse 8, near the metro Stephensplatz. Try on a size smaller than you usually wear. They also have new but vintage style suede shoes, blouses, and bras.

-Try the wiener schnitzel (a flat, breaded cutlet of veal, pork or chicken, often served with potato salad and a slice of lemon.)
-If you’re vegetarian/vegan Vienna has lots of options. I love Swing Kitchen, a cheap, casual vegan diner with fantastic schnitzel, “chicken” nuggets, homemade cola, apple soda and beer. Schottenfeldgasse 3, close to Zieglergasse metro station and The Purple Cave.
-Drink spicy chili beer and sample the apple strudel (a delicious combination) at 7 Stern Braeu, a microbrewery in the 7th district. Seibensterngasse 19. Open 11 am-midnight.
-Snack on dreamy pastries at Kurkonditorei Oberlaa. Neuer Markt 16. Metro: Stephansplatz.
-If you like fancy chocolates in beautiful boxes buy presents at Demel. Kohlmarkt 14.
-Have a drink at Das Moped. They make a tasty curry mango cocktail and it’s open on Sunday. Avoid the cake though. Salmgasse 23, Metro: Rochugasse.

CITY NOTES: Most shops and many cafes and bars are closed on Sunday, though most museums are open. If you’ll be zipping around town a lot get a 2 or 3-day metro pass. Many cafes and bars allow smoking inside (Das Moped has an awesome though fragrant 60s smoking room in the back.) Dogs are welcome in many restaurants, shops, and on the metro.
The metro in Vienna, March 2017

Thursday, 23 March 2017

I wrote this short story a little while ago…

The Sharper One

I met her in Rome, where she bought me a red wool cape. Then we drove up to a small town in Tuscany, where she was working on a massive house, guarded by monumental rusty gates and a pack of dogs.  She unlocked the gates and the door and showed me into the drafty house with stone floors.

I felt the strange panic approaching, the imprisoned feeling I usually get when I’m in the countryside. There’s no escaping thoughts and solitude in the silence of the country. Without the multitudes of people and things around me I might become someone else.

I unpacked my suitcase, carefully taking out all the clothes I thought my mother would approve of. Stylish combinations to quiet her prickly concern.  If everything was in top condition, unwrinkled, then there would be one less thing for her to comment on.  I wanted to be close to my mother but I didn’t know how to talk to her. She speaks to me as if I am a half-finished painting in need of repair, one that she has been working on for many years that bears the mark of the artist. I try to communicate through my clothes, wearing what might amuse her or please her.

The next day my sister’s boyfriend brought his best friend over for lunch. The two men moved through the room with the relaxed confidence of people who don’t have many things to worry about. My sister’s boyfriend John was a doctor and his friend, William, was a photographer. 

“You’re a photographer? How fascinating!” my mother declared. “Come and see the pictures of Margarita!” She led William to my sister’s photographs of me. She lingered on a large black and white picture of me, half-naked, floating in a lake. A topless Ophelia washed up on Long Island.

“It was very cold that day…” I offered.
“I see, ” he replied, glancing at the photograph.

We resumed our places at the long wooden table. My mother poured more wine in everyone’s glasses. She served homemade cake and told us to have fun on our walk. I gulped two glasses of Campari in the kitchen while the others bundled up.

William drove while I looked at his Ipod, picking out French pop songs from the 90s. The four of us tumbled out for our winter walk over Etruscan trails, past a massive heart made of rocks and a circle of kids smoking by a heap of bikes. My sister and her boyfriend walked behind us, holding hands. We forged forward. The Campari made me more conversational, and lively, though I wondered if I smelled like Marcello Mastroianni on a Sunday morning.  I felt intimidated by William’s beautiful chestnut-coloured suede Chelsea boots, probably one of many pairs since he was wearing these ones on a muddy walk.  I wanted his comfortable life, to travel and take pictures, and beyond that, the rest of it was a mystery, peppered with offhand mentions of Venice in the spring or a wedding in Florence. 

John led us past a waterfall to an ancient chapel carved into a cave. Sunlight filtered in, painting the inside a soft golden colour.  William took pictures of my sister and John dipped in shadows. The afternoon faded away. We walked back to the car. I sat in the front and peeled a clementine and fed a few segments to William while he kept his eyes on the road.

After they dropped us off my mother was quiet and then she said, “Maybe you can marry William.” 

I turned to her and clenched my fists “What are you talking about? I just met him! What makes you think I even like him?”
“Why do you always date those frail destitute gay men?”
“They’re not gay, they’re from London! There’s a difference!” I shouted. I ran to my room, feeling like a teenager, and searched for a notebook to write in.

A few days later, my sister’s boyfriend came by with his friend to take us to dinner.

“Do you want to make your famous negronis?” my mother asked.  A glass beaker was taken down from the shelf and filled with ruby liquid and passed around the room.  My mother suggested we go to the hot springs.  She waved us goodbye.

After a dinner of pasta and red wine and animals for the boys, we parked by the springs around midnight. My sister stripped off all her clothes and bounded in. Her boyfriend disappeared behind her. I unzipped my dress and wished I had worn newer underwear. I waded into the water, a flash of white cotton and winter-pale skin. William cloaked himself under a large blue towel and changed into long swimming trunks. He crept in after us. 

The warm darkness beckoned so I stumbled over the rocks and sat down near a small waterfall. Somewhere in the steam my sister was falling and laughing, her blurry shape colliding into the shadows of her love’s arms. The December air bit at my shoulders as hot water rushed around my waist, pulling me in.  The ravioli and wine acted as sedative. I was making peace with the evening.

Tucked into the springs, wavy hair licking my shoulders, I stared at the stars.  I moved and felt another set of limbs. I tentatively felt the leg – definitely not mine.  There was a moment of stillness, of contemplating whether this was a throne or a man, and then he drifted to the right. William was gone in a few splashes. Did I frighten him? My sister called me. It was growing cold. It was time to drive home. As I dried off I saw William’s car speed away.

“He’s so uptight,” my sister commented, “and ‘Rita, you were really drunk at dinner.”
“I know.  I was nervous.”
We zoomed through the deserted country roads, singing along to the dance music.  After two hours the lights of the house parted the blackness. We were home.

In the morning my mother drove me to see the Etruscan tombs. I scaled the fence and met her by the rocks. We walked along the slippery path in the drizzle, silent except for the soles of our shoes brushing along the rock, the dirt, and the leaves. We have so much in common and yet I didn’t know what to say.

On my last night I was packing my suitcase in my room.
“Are you wearing men’s underwear?” my mother accused, appearing in my room like a phantom.
“This is why you’re still single…” she continued.
“These are my pyjamas: boxer shorts, a shirt – I didn’t think anyone would be seeing them on this trip.”
“Didn’t I give you silk pyjamas for Christmas last year?”
“I have lots of nice pyjamas at home, for when I have an audience. I have Agent Provocateur pyjamas!”
“Then why don’t you throw those away?”
“They’re comfortable.  I didn’t realise there was a dress code for bed around here.”

She picked up the red cape, picked up black thread, and began sewing a velvet ribbon on it, to keep it closed against the wind. She jabbed the needle through in messy, angry stitches.

“You’re so ungrateful. Oh, how I suffered being forced to go to all those excellent schools and ski trips! The torture, the spiders, the injustice! It’s so hard. So, where do you want to live, the ghetto?” she mocked.

“I don’t live in the ghetto! I live near the Central Line. East London is not the ghetto.  I have a great apartment. Why are you always disappointed in me?”

“You’ve become really high-strung. You’ve got to get out of advertising,” she snapped.

“Why do you think I’m in advertising? For the life-affirming deep satisfaction that I’m improving people’s lives? No, I do it for…”

I couldn’t tell her how I wanted to impress her, to get her approval. I thought if I made some money she wouldn’t act so dissatisfied with me. She would notice me, or maybe even praise me.

“It’s your life. What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

 The next morning we all woke up just before dawn. My sister cooked scrambled eggs and my mother packed snacks for the drive and wrapped up a jar of Nutella for me to take home. My sister and I got in the car; jammed with suitcases and pictures she had to deliver to Sicily. She started the car and fastened her seatbelt. I opened the door and jumped out. I ran back in and gave my mother a hug. I felt like a child. My sister honked. The grass was dewy as I stepped over it, back to the boxy little car that reminded me of a cassette tape.  The car coughed over the rocks. The sun rose over the gate as it closed behind us.

-Margo Fortuny