Saturday, July 31, 2010

Europe 2010 - Salzburg Seminar Stories Now Online!

Schloss Leopoldskron, site of the Salzburg Global Seminar
At last I've posted stories and photos from my July 2010 adventures in Europe where I attended the Salzburg Global Seminar's International Study Program. It's a 12-part series that's taken me days to pull together. No doubt I'll return frequently for updates, but I wanted to share an early draft with you right away.

Point your browser here [URL is shortened]:

NOTE: if that link doesn't work, you can always just go to July 8, 2010 of my blog.

I'm on summer hiatus now, but I'll return to blogging in about three weeks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vienna Stencil Art

Today I'm completing my series of blog-posts on Vienna's street art, focusing solely on stencil pieces. The top one, my favorite, is Aakash Nihalani's reinterpretation of Banksy's "Love is in the Air" [learn more at Unurth].

As usual, while looking to learn more about this technique, which is clearly designed for quick insertion into the urban scene, I found sites that contain even cooler and more subversive images than the ones I spotted [I'm looking in your direction, Fiveprime].

Complex layers of irony, the shock of unexpected juxtaposition, and the simple willingness to jar viewers from the anesthetizing shopper's gaze seem to motivate folks who stencil icons on the walls of the world's cities. Their haste reflects, but also shatters, a larger urban push.

These pieces are painted onto permanent structures, mostly, but they are still designed for ephemerality. New stencils replace the old, either through urban cleanup efforts or due to changing fashion among the artists. The scene convulses with a stream of strange moments.

You can ask, "What does it mean?" But I think the answer is less relevant than the pre-cognitive experience of encountering a kiss, a gun, or a slogan where it doesn't belong. That instant is more "the point" than any artist's statement.

Oh, and check out the broader trip summary of my adventures in Europe.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another Expo 2010 Review

Jimmy Im has posted a snarky but useful review of Shanghai's Expo 2010. One action item he's inspired me to consider: dress for the heat and bring an umbrella. The weather in Shanghai is supposed to be miserably hot right about now -- I've heard it's topping the hundreds, at least in "feels like" temperature.

What's more, the days are punctuated by frequent bouts of humid rain. I guess that's why virtually every image I've seen from the fair features bleak, overcast skies. Even worse? Im notes that fair regulations prohibit visitors from bringing water or lip balm, despite the lousy weather. OK, concessionaires need to make money selling overpriced water. But lip balm? What's the hassle with lip balm?

Happily the news isn't all bad. The fair is remarkable for its architecture and design, Im says. And it's all the more interesting if you can get into a pavilion. Here's an excerpt:
"Structurally, the exteriors can be commanding, some soaring into the sky, others capturing clever design aesthetics… For those who can’t travel the world, the rewards inside the pavilions are actually worth the wait: Denmark’s iconic statue, The Little Mermaid, was lugged over from Scandinavia; Japan has awe-inspiring robots playing violins with highly-pressure sensitive fingers."
I'll see the fair for myself this August. And I'll certainly bring back stories and pix. First goal: see Spain's creepy Giant Baby!

Read the article: Travel dispatch: Surviving the Shanghai world expo 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shameless Media Plug: York Weekly

Nancy Cicco has written an editorial for York Weekly that employs omnitopia to critique the encroachment of "formula" restaurants in her small Maine town. A pertinent quote:
"Omnitopia." It's unknown who first coined the term, which is a melding of the Latin "omnis," meaning "all," and the Greek word "topos," meaning place. Andrew Wood, a professor of communication studies at San José University, is a leading researcher and chronicler of the phenomenon, which occurs when divergent people, often in divergent locales, encounter a sameness of experience when socializing in ubiquitous, homogenized public spaces.

According to Wood, architectural spaces in modern-day society that give rise to a sense of omnitopia are all around us: Corporate office buildings and workplace cubicles, motel rooms, and airport terminals are but a few examples.

Wood is fascinated with the subject, and clearly York residents are, too.
I think it's cool that Cicco is using omnitopian scholarship to advance a local debate. She rightly notes that the Latin and Greek roots belong to us all, illustrating that there are many articulations of omnitopia - and many ways it can be used beyond the academic context.

Read more: York should leave formula restaurant ban as it is

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Salzburg Panorama

Standing in a circular room, you turn around and see a 360-degree painting of one of Europe's most charming cities as it appeared in 1829. It's an amazing feat of artistry and precision, kind of like being inside an IMAX theater, but in a more personal way. It's also one of Austria's little-known glories: Johann Michael Sattler's Salzburg Panorama painting.

As the Panorama Museum website explains, Sattler began by producing sketches of Salzburg from the Festung Hohensalzburg, a fortress that offers commanding views over the countryside. From those initial perspectives he worked with two assistants to create a circular painting that stretches 26 meters (85 feet) in circumference.

Image courtesy of Curious Expeditions
Mounted in a traveling rotunda and shipped by riverboat, Sattler's painting toured central Europe for about ten years, serving as a pitch for tourists to visit the city while representing a nineteenth century love of spectacle, the God's eye view. Afterward, the Salzburg Panorama was installed in its own pavilion near the city's Mirabell Palace.

Visitors would wander within a cylindrical building to view the painting that wrapped around them, enjoying the power and pleasure of a perspective that seemed more potent than the real thing. Exiting the rotunda, they would then view postcard-like paintings of world landmarks called "cosmoramas," seeing them through peepholes to enhance the perceived distance and dimensionality of these exotic scenes.

Unfortunately the decay of time and the ruin of aerial bombardment during the Second World War nearly ruined Sattler's rendition of Salzburg. The piece suffered rips and tears, and even mold. Moreover, various restoration efforts throughout the decades only managed to muddy the painting's once-vivid colors, rendering the Salzburg Panorama a dreary mess. It would take a two-year repair effort to return Sattler's masterwork to a semblance of its original beauty.

Today it costs merely two Euros to enter the painting's new display, a circular viewing area with telescopes that allow folks to peer at tiny details of Salzburg life. Along with a changing selection of "cosmoramas," the modern exhibit also includes a digital version of the Salzburg Panorama, allowing visitors read brief explanations about specific segments while comparing the artistic rendering to a contemporary photograph.

During my visit, I generally had the painting to myself, as other visitors tended to stay only 10 minutes or so. I circled the piece dozens of times, amazed by its intricacy. Playing with the telescopes, I appreciated the chance to focus on precise details, though I found that my tripod-mounted camera produced better results than the blurry optics of those scopes. More importantly, my tripod allowed for long exposures, eliminating the need for color-killing flash photography.

Gazing upon Salzburg as it appeared in nineteenth century autumnal afternoon light, I was enchanted by this idealized version of Austrian public (and semi-private) life: women chatting over clotheslines, lovers strolling the gardens of Schloss Mirabell, and kids playing near the fields where the farmers toil. Of course I was also attracted to the painting's view of Schloss Leopoldskron, site of the Salzburg Seminar that had drawn me to this medieval city in the first place.

It was such a kick to trace those pedestrian walkways from the Schloss through the fields, past the sheep-herders and across the Salzach River. I could imagine myself wandering those narrow winding alleys to the town square and its magisterial spires where the bells peel on the hour. Later that afternoon, once I finally climbed the hill leading to the fortress where Sattler did his initial drawings, seeing the city he reproduced, I would really appreciate the artist's skill.

Sattler's painting became an alternative world for me, a pleasurably parallel continuum of possibility. Tramping through hills and along rivers during my week in Salzburg, I would wonder if this was the spot where women continued to talk while hanging laundry. Perhaps that was the field where kids watched the shepherds gathering their sheep. Salzburg Panorama enacts an amazing illusion that makes "real" photographs, even supposedly panoramic ones, grow dim by comparison.

Learn more: Check out the Salzburg Museum's Panorama description. Also, take a look at their large view of the painting.

Read more: Bernard Comment's (1999) The painted panorama. New York: Harry N. Abrams, especially pages 54, 134, 138, 152, 210-211.

(Photographs - other than Curious Expeditions image - by Andrew Wood)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Shanghai World's Fair

Here's a guest post from Johnathan Huang, a visitor to Shanghai's Expo 2010 who also was recently a student of mine. He shared his impressions with me during a recent email exchange and has graciously agreed for me to repost some of his comments and photos here. From his observations, one gathers that Shanghai has not succeeded in trying to recreate the classic world's fair experience, which was one of the fair planners' goals. Even so, Shanghai has certainly created something big.

Johnathan's comments follow:

About a month before I was supposed to visit my grandparents in Shanghai, my mom told me to pack comfortable shoes because we would be walking a lot; my grandmother had bought tickets to the Expo. "What is this Expo thing, and why were we going to it?" I thought. I honestly didn't have a clue what she was talking about. I hadn't seen or heard anything about this event back home in California. Little did I know, I was about to experience something I had learned last summer in Professor Wood's Rhetoric and Public Life class.

Still jet-lagged from the flight, I watched television to pass the time. Before I even had an opportunity to set foot inside the Expo, there were music videos and commercials about it on many of the TV channels in Shanghai. The motto was, "Better City, Better Life." There was a program called Expo 360 that gave you a sneak peek at some of the pavilions. Some time between landing in Shanghai on Saturday and the Tuesday before actually going to the Expo, it hit me: This was a modern day world fair. Even after seeing these I still didn't really know what to expect. When it was time to go to the Expo we had to get up at 8:00 a.m. to meet up with the tour group and take the bus there.

There were a wide variety of pavilions. Some were large while others were small; some required a reservation while others were just waits. Among those pavilions, I had an opportunity to visit Thailand. This pavilion was fairly small in comparison to its neighbors, Korea and Japan. It was like walking through a small art museum, and for me the wait was no more than maybe five minutes. This was nothing in comparison to the four hour waits for others. I only had a chance to visit this small pavilion because the majority of my time was spent waiting at the main pavilions, such as Japan, Korea, China, and USA. I suppose the larger main pavilions were like walking through a museum too, but they had more content and usually included a main attraction/show/presentation/video/etc.

You might feel differently after visiting a main pavilion like China, but I wish I didn't expect so much. I think I made the mistake of assuming it would be this huge thing because of how big the lines were, or maybe I was already so fed up with the ridiculous wait that when I got in I wasn't able to enjoy it entirely. I felt a little disappointed.

The Expo's main theme seemed to be "sustainability," but each pavilion had its own focus. I could go more into it and describe to you what each pavilion showcased, but I don't want to include "spoilers." I guess if I were to do it all over again I would have just roamed the park and snapped more pictures of the interesting buildings. I would have also taken the ferry to the other side of the river, because there was a lot of the Expo I didn't have an opportunity to see because I had wasted a lot of time in the lines.

If you only have a single day to be at the Expo, your time would probably be best spent enjoying the outside architecture, at least that's what I would suggest. There wasn't really anything inside those pavilions that I would tell any of my friends, "Oh my gosh you have to go see it!" You can also buy Expo Passports, and at each pavilion you can get a stamp, as if you've traveled there for real. But the stamp desks are positioned in such a way at some pavilions that people are prone to leap-frogging over you in line.

The best expo experience would be defined by what you are most interested in seeing. If you want to see detailed technology about sustainability then your best bets are the Japan and China pavilions. Each pavilion has created lots of little videos/cinematics, and I guess these would be considered the main attractions. But they didn't really wow me. Some were tear-jerking, some were historic, some were motivating, some were informative. Come to think of it, a few reminded me of Professor Wood's final class project of one's "Ideal Community."

I suppose each pavilion could be described as a small thumbnail of each country, because each has a collection of things that provided a brief overview of what the country is like, how it sees the future, or how it would like to be represented. There are a lot of hidden gems within the Expo but I did not have an opportunity to find or visit any of them. Symbols of the Expo were all around the Expo and Shanghai. It was a little blue cartoon character named HaiBao.

It almost felt like I was in the adult version of Disneyland's "It's a Small World."

Many thanks to Johnathan Huang for sharing his comments about the Shanghai Expo! I'll be adding my own thoughts about the 2010 World's Fair after I visit in August.

(Photographs by Johnathan Huang)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vienna Street Art (2 of 2)

Following up on yesterday's post about Vienna Street Art I'm sharing a few more of my favorite hand-painted pieces seen during a July 2010 trip to Austria's capital city. While most of my finds were located at the Donaukanal, some reside along the side streets along Marxergasse, which I traveled on my way to seeing Hundertwasser Village. Yes, I'll write a complete report of my European adventures later, one that includes some of Vienna's more traditionally touristic spots. But today is dedicated to the city's funkier environs [Click images for larger views].

There is anger on these walls, but humor, pathos, and joyful absurdity too. As with the street art found in most any urban center, these pieces convey a sense of the alienation that many city-dwellers face. Contemporary cities are built for order; their bulging populations and the very real threat of violence demands it. Yet the space for critique, for surprise, for a personal encounter with the unknown is often edited out of the environment [see my pix of Viennese stencil art for more illustrations]. In response, these artists appropriate the urban canvas, both for their own gratification and for the purpose of social transformation.

The garish colors found in many of these pieces, along with their cartoonish icons and the role of brain-altering chemicals in their production, inspire a kind of childlike whimsy. At the same time, most street art resides in the context of urban decay and despair. It is therefore a strange feeling to wander these streets as a tourist, my tripod hung over my shoulders as both a totem of my detachment and a would-be guaranteer of my security. The meaning of these pieces can never quite be separated from the possessions and perceptions of those who view them.

Seeing these examples of street art reminds me (as so many things do) of William Gibson's semiotic ghosts, pieces of ephemera that convey bits and pieces of lost culture, glimpses of alternative worlds that reside in the abandoned or ignored parts of the city. A semiotic ghost need not be aggressive or shocking, though. Like an old piece of wallpaper discovered when you strip the most recent layer of paint from a surface, semiotic ghosts possess the power to take you to other times and places. Sometimes you return quite a bit different than when you left.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vienna Street Art (1 of 2)

During my recent trip to Germany and Austria I enjoyed the opportunity to take long walks around the cities of Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna. Each of these cities engrossed me with their distinct characters and experiences, and I have a feeling I'll be writing about this trip for a long time. Indeed, I plan to post a comprehensive trip report in the coming week. In the meantime I am working through some smaller projects that have arisen from my visit. Initially I'll focus on one specific aspect of Vienna: its thriving street art scene [click on images for larger view].

Four days in Austria's capital offers me no expertise on Vienna's mutating collection of hastily scrawled tags, spray-painted icons, druggy dreamscapes, political shrieks, and dense works of creativity and confusion that could easily be mounted in a museum somewhere. Moreover, my searches for hand-painted and stenciled works were limited to the banks of the Donaukanal and the semi-funky Fünfhaus district. Nonetheless, I delighted in each discovery. I was not alone, either. Especially along the canal's pedestrian promenade, where tattered folks sometimes fish in the murky green waters, a number of photographers stopped to shoot pieces whose ephemerality perfectly illustrates the phrase, "Here today, gone tomorrow."

Finding street art takes patience, of course, but also a willingness to take multiple passes through a singular area. Many times I found myself missing a piece, only to catch a glimpse from another angle or a different side of the street. Changes in lighting or even differences in how my eye would flow across the landscape showed me repeatedly that one stroll would never reveal everything. Any flâneur searching for urban narratives should do more than just "take a turtle for a walk." Wandering the modern labyrinth demands multiple turns and returns just to catch it all, recognizing that each view is a single frame in an endlessly changing show.

Again, I didn't catch more than a tiny sliver of what Viennese street artists are producing. But I got a sense that this place offers a dynamic canvas for legal and not-so-legal expression. In places where local officials have authorized folks to share their works, one discerns a nearly respectful distance between pieces. Few taggers desecrate the much more creative stuff on display. Yet one finds more rushed, more caustic stuff pretty much anywhere in the city. Of that latter type, I was particularly drawn to stencil works whose abrasive non-sequiturs appeal to my own tolerance for irrational conceptualism [See what I mean].

Today I'm sharing a few of my favorite pieces from the Donaukanal. Some of these works are undeniably clever; some are pretty disturbing (and some are a little too raunchy for my blog). But the collective experience makes me grateful for the opportunity to see a side of Vienna that rarely appears in the guidebooks. Oh, and check back tomorrow for more examples of Vienna street art.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Europe 2010 - Vienna to Munich - Day 12 of 12

Today marked the end of my trip. I would spend a few hours surveying alleys near Hotel Lucia in a final search for Viennese street art before catching the train back to Munich. The morning's photographic odyssey inspired some strange encounters, as folks standing near a piece of throwaway stencil graffiti would look askance at my studied efforts to compose and crop my shots. The act of taking photos of local commonplaces produces a strange effect, one requiring a tourist to become notably uncultured in foreign lands, just to appear cultured for friends back home. I delighted in my situation's absurdity, even as the minutes ticked away before my train would depart.

Vienna street art
In my midmorning search for a meal, I would not seek a "peak experience." I was mildly hungry but in no mood to hop subway stations of some cultural pilgrimage prescribed by my guidebook. I would simply sit down at a place that seemed right for me. Fortunately, finding a bar or cafe in Vienna is just as easy as finding a thrilling piece of baroque architecture or pitying an exasperated visitor flipping through a guidebook. In Vienna, they're everywhere. I just wanted some wiener schnitzel and a beer. And just like that, I entered a modest place where I knew I could enjoy an outdoor meal. Stepping up to order, though, something marvelous happened.

As I fumbled through the necessary greetings and details of my order, I was addressed in German, not in polite but somewhat condescending English. With strategically employed gestures and a smattering of rightly timed phrases, I managed a couple volleys of communication before my secret was revealed. Of course I do not know the language. But something about my demeanor pegged me as less of an outsider than normal. The woman at the counter smiled warmly and offered to bring my bier to a table outside. Before long, I was riding the train back to Munich, full, content, and ready for home.

There's something wonderful about dipping cookies in a melange and watching the countryside roll by. Unfortunately I was sitting next to the one annoying dude, a would-be hipster with requisite three-day-old facial hair and a penchant for interrupting his German with "global" words like "Facebook" and "PDF" into his iPhone (of course it was an iPhone). This guy, a lamoid who didn't even look up when the conductor came by to punch his ticket, must have been the only Austrian who missed the memo that polite folks don't yell into their cell phones on trains. I tuned out my train nemesis with Thelonious Monk's "Ruby, My Dear."

Pulling into Salzburg, a brief stop on the way to Munich, I grew intrigued by the variances in explanations about our location. In German, the conductor seemed to wax eloquently about the place, describing important landmarks, explaining points of historical interest -- maybe telling stories about his kids, for all I knew. In English, he merely said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are in Salzburg." No matter, loser-hipster-guy departed, presumably in search of a discothèque filled with bouncy teens and droning beats. He left his table covered in the trash of his various espressos and foil-covered snacks. I almost thought I heard a sigh of relief from a few other passengers (or maybe that was just me).

Rolling back to Munich, past those small towns dotted with tall church spires that jolt away from the land like exclamation points (German language speakers, at least official ones, seem drawn to exclamation points) I sipped a Budweiser Budvar, supposedly a "Czech important lager" that was offered as an alternative to an Austrian bier that I was told to be insufficient. The word "original" was scrawled atop the crookedly glued sticker, though to my shame, I realized that it'd been years since I downed an American Budweiser. Whatever this stuff was, I could hardly tell the difference.

On this trip, efforts to find real experiences, something like Walter Benjamin's idea of "aura," invariably seemed forced, fake. Only when I eased into things, settled into a less pressured vibe of "getting it right," did I catch glimpses of the real thing. Still the question remains: what is the purpose of travel? Truth or pleasure? Presumably one ventures afar in order to learn something new, so long as the thing beheld is true. Yet I increasingly side with those who admit trepidation at the whole ideal of "the real." For every moment of truth, there is always one who knows more, a self-styled expert who points out the fakery of any place, or at least the fakery of your own search.

So I wrap up my trip report on the train to Munich where I will stay the night before departing for SFO and home. I'm devouring a slice of Schokonusstorte and sipping some middling whiskey. Tomorrow at the airport I will order an Airbrau and a Henkersmahlzeit (a "hangman's lunch" composed of bread, water, and a cigarette). Now I gaze over the terrain with a combination of wide-eyed amazement and practiced ennui. I sat in a cafe today, leaving the last of my foolishly purchased Chesterfield cigarettes stubbed out in an ashtray. I practiced the art of being a local, one who knows. For a moment, I was that person, I was there. But always I was still me, a guy who stared awestruck at the vacation slideshows of others when I was a kid, one who never thought he'd travel to places like this. Today I was in Vienna; tomorrow it's back to Starbucks.

Part of the Salzburg seminar, I'm told, is to create citizens of the world. And certainly I've seen a bit more of the world now that I've come here. Yet truthfully I wonder how much of my citizenship is solely vested in souvenirs and a few good stories. Perhaps somewhere, maybe in the next train, there's a person who knows all the inside jokes, one who knows all the cool places that are lost to the travel-guide writers. Maybe he's wrapping a fellow traveler in the pleasurable embrace of a story far too clever to retell. One that can only be experienced. I am not that person. But I have been somewhere new these past few days. I've met some amazing people and seen some wonderful things.

That is enough for today.

Day 11 | Start Over

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Europe 2010 - Vienna - Day 11 of 12

Today was pretty much a "greatest hits" version of yesterday, partially because I was getting a little exhausted by more than a week's worth of novelty and partially because I wanted to dive more deeply into some elements of Vienna that intrigued me the most. For that reason I returned to Cafe Central yet again, once more ordering breakfast and staying long enough to sip a cup or two of melange. Then I dedicated much of the day to finding more street art.

Donaukanal mural
I have yet to fully think through my thoughts about this urban phenomenon. As a rule, I despise the notion that one person can lay claim to the property of another, whether through theft or defacement. Yet I relax my standards somewhat when viewing the imposition of creativity upon an otherwise ugly, deteriorating façade. This is hardly a coherent philosophy, I know. Happily, the city of Vienna has embraced street art in a number of locations, allowing its practitioners an open canvas to share their works. I've written some blog posts about what I found [you might as well start with this one].

Austria's version of "Freedom from Fear"
Exiting the Donaukanal, where I found some of my favorite murals, I also noticed an oddly contradictory poster for the Polizei. It centered on two cops in riot gear, the armored pair filling most of the frame. In the background, a nondescript crowd of protestors hoisted flaming objects, perhaps Molotov cocktails. The slogan: "Freiheit," the German word for "freedom" and "liberty." Not knowing the language, and hardly possessing insight into Austrian notions of irony, if any, I couldn't help but chuckle at the juxtaposition of ideas conveyed by that poster. Thinking back to the street art mounted nearby, I reflected on how these two notions of Viennese life, of discipline and resistance, talk to each other as competing visions.

"Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes"
Evening brought me back to the Gasometer Complex in a halfhearted attempt to seek entrance into the domed living spaces rising from the mall's central axis. I knew that residents, understandably guarding their privacy, would have their own elevators or other pathways to the interior. I thought briefly about trying to follow someone away from the mall, perhaps even striking up a conversation about my interest in this unique type of domestic architecture. But I recognized that my lack of language skills and the creepiness of my request (essentially, "Let me follow you up to your apartment") would be hard to accept. I settled for an hour of random wandering in and around the structures, snapping pictures and planning for a return next year after seeking authorization in advance.

Back to the Gasometer
Exhausted after all my walking, and all my days of largely sleepless activity, I returned to my room and enjoyed an early night's rest.

Day 10 | Day 12

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Europe 2010 - Vienna - Day 10 of 12

I got up early and headed straight for Cafe Central again, lining up a table near an outlet and ordering a traditional Viennese breakfast. I'm told that the famed poet Peter Altenberg loved the place enough to request that his mail be delivered here. Hitler too, supposedly, tried to sell some of his paintings in the cafe before he took his turn toward infamy. Sipping a tasty melange, I could certainly understand why the cafe is so popular with folks possessing nothing but time.

Morning at Cafe Central
An unofficial rule of Viennese cafe culture is that you can keep a table all day long. Sip coffee, read books, smoke cigarettes, talk with friends, or just people watch; there's no rush. Servers may be terse (mine never were) but they let you stay as long as you like. Cafe Central even has a rack of international newspapers, so if you haven't flipped through Le Monde in a few days you're in the right place.

View from my favorite seat
Hours passed as my tab grew from melange to melange. Eventually I ordered up a bottle of Pellegrino and received a tiny pitcher of lemon juice when I asked for something a bit more tart. Clouds had gathered outside and I was in no hurry to hit the sidewalks. It wouldn't be until about two in the afternoon that I'd decide to gather my stuff. For the previous half hour or so, I'd been exchanging glances with a group occupying a table near mine. When I left we all smiled at each other, sharing our sense of good fortune without saying a word.

For the afternoon I dedicated myself to visiting Hundertwasserhaus, an experiment in nonlinear architecture that allows even the most banal housing to become playfully artistic. Undulating floors, grass-covered roofs, and oddly sized windows made for an oddly psychedelic effect that reminded me of Gustav Klimt's paintings. That said, I had my usual share of difficulties getting to this place, finding myself along dreary streets whose walls were covered with loud and occasionally disturbing iconography. That's when I began to develop an interest in Vienna's street art that would later inspire a more devoted tour of still dingier environs. After snapping some photos along Marxergasse, I slumped into a nearly empty Cafe Zartl, almost melting into a booth, before getting directions for my next destination.

Gasometer complex
In the early evening, after my tour of Hundertwasserhaus, I took the metro to another example of strange but fascinating urban design, the Gasometer complex. Having never heard of the place before, I was intrigued when I spotted a reference in a pamphlet on Viennese architecture laying in the lobby of my hotel. It turns out that the Gasometer is an interconnected chain of four gas storage tanks that had been built in the 1890s, hulks now transformed into a small city. Surrounded by the buildings' original brick facades, each rotunda now houses rings of apartments that curve around a sunlit interior.

Gasometer vertical panorama
Since different architects designed each building (built between 1999-2001), each structure possesses its own unique character. Drawing the domed towers together: a linear mall that leads back to the metro station outside. Another axis leads to a casino, convincing me that I'd come as close as ever to seeing what Logan's Run might look like in practice. While I had no luck finding a way into the interiors of the domes, having to settle for glimpses through circular ceilings of the mall level, I knew that the Gasometer is a place that demands my return, perhaps in a forthcoming book about "tiny towns."

Another view of the Gasometer
Nightfall brought me back to Vienna's center, to the parliament building where something called "Life Ball" was in full swing. A gala raising funds for HIV/AIDS research and prevention, Life Ball had attracted American luminaries such as Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Clinton -- their pictures made the front-pages of discarded newspapers I'd read on the metro. Even so, most cameras were focused on gaudily costumed partiers who lined the streets and filled the cafes. They'd come to dance until dawn. I found a seat for dessert at Café Landtman to watch the show, which included a coterie of elderly protesters, until I noticed dark billowing storm clouds settling over the city.

AIDS ribbon on Parliament Building for Life Ball
As the winds picked up I headed back, figuring on a quick melange at Gelateria di Jimmy near my hotel. That's when light raindrops turned to torrents and I was forced to sit until closing time, watching panes of water pour from the canopy. The server, a guy who recognized me from the previous night, invited me to stick around, but I'd had enough adventure for one evening. So I packed my gear under my clothes, ducked my head, and raced as fast as my feet would carry me. Inwardly I had to laugh. Right then I'd prefer to run through the streets of Vienna on a stormy Saturday night than be just about anywhere else.

Andy stuck in the rain at Gelateria di Jimmy

Day 9 | Day 11